The Apple Watch Mystery
Black Mercury HQ has been buzzing about the Apple Watch ever since it was announced. Given that it will likely make an appearance on our doorsteps in early April, there’s only a couple months left to speculate on what we think the experience will be like to use it (more on that later).
Beyond the experience, there's still an aspect of the Apple Watch that puzzles us, and has been fodder for much discussion around the whiteboard. Clearly, Apple sees this product as being about personal fashion, and plans to build an aura of desirability around it using some of the time-tested techniques from other high-end watch makers. A quick skim through the pages of “WatchTime” magazine (or any of the other fascinating but slightly strange timepiece-fetishizing publications out there), makes it immediately clear how emotionally connected people can get to these…um…strap-ons. Unlike all the other products Apple has produced, this is the first one that they definitely DON’T want to call “a device”. By anyone. Ever. For them, and they hope for their customers, it will be so much more. It’s one of the reasons Apple no doubt refers to the time-keeping view of the watch as the “complication”. Very old school.
Unlike the Patek Philippes and “Bathyscaphe Flyback Chronos” that adorn the pages of WatchTime, the Apple Watch is still necessarily about delivering an experience that’s differentiated and improved by technology. The sensors, the display, the UI, the iPhone integration…these are all the things that will make the Apple Watch “special”, and desirable. The personalization, the gold finishes, and the fashionability — while important — will be secondary to the utility, at least for the North American market.
Which brings us to the fundamental puzzler for us: why will people plunk down thousands of dollars for an Apple Watch Edition, when this core functionality will be obsolete in a few years? Unlike a decent Rolex, which is still perceived to be valuable (or even greater in value) after decades, a $4,000 Apple Watch Edition will be seen as an amusing artifact after 10 years, right? Mechanical watches, even those with sophisticated cutting-edge technology, can stand the test of time because they are “investments in quality”. But it seems a stretch that an Apple Watch would be perceived the same way.
One theory we have, that’s also been voiced by John Gruber and a handful of other Apple watchers (pun intended), is that the “system on a chip” design employed by the Apple Watch might make it easily upgradeable. After a few years, upgrading may be as simple as swapping out the “micro-motherboard”, although one would still be stuck with same display and basic hardware UI. Admittedly, this is a shaky theory.
While there have been forays into prestige-tech with ventures like Vertu and off-the-dial one-offs from custom shops like Stuart Hughes aimed primarily at the Gulf Oil set, there’s never been a “mass market” luxury tech product quite like the Edition. It’s a fascinating amalgam of technology and pricey fashion prestige. Unless there’s some ingenious and clearly communicated “upgrade plan” for the high end watches, we're going to stick our neck out and predict that Apple will not be seeing much success for the Edition in the North American market. But we can’t wait to see how things shake out!