Neville Hobson

Apple Watch: How desirable and disruptive will it be?

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

For the past six months, I’ve been wearing a smartwatch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo you see pictured here.

As I have a number of Samsung mobile devices, this smartwatch is ideal for me as it’s geared, so to speak, to work with a wide range of Samsung smartphones including all the ones I have. Currently it’s paired with my Galaxy S4.

The Gear 2 Neo does everything I expect a device like this to do as I mentioned in my initial review of its features and functionality last November. Things like:

It also offers health-related apps – pedometer, heart rate measurement, how many hours I sleep – plus others like a voice-recording app for notes, S Voice (an “Ok Google”-like app to ask questions), a music player for music I can store on the watch or stream from the phone (or from the net via the phone), stopwatch, weather reports, and more.

Plus there are myriad ways you can customize the device, from its look and feel to adding features and functions with apps via the Gear Manager app on your phone.

The bulleted list above describes the features and functions I currently value most. So health-related apps aren’t of much interest to me as they are pretty rudimentary: I’m sure that devices like Fitbit or Jawbone that focus specifically on such features are much better as that’s precisely what they do.

I’m also experimenting with apps on the phone that deliver breaking news topics to the watch that alert me of that breaking news, and which I can read on the watch. My current app for that is News Republic; it’s not bad.

And yet.

I want more than all this in a smartwatch. I want to see the word smart mean a great deal more.

I don’t care what shape the device is – square, round, whatever – as long as it looks good (a highly-subjective way of regarding it) and delivers the features and functionality that I want that helps make my life better organized, easier, more productive, fun, etc.

In reality, I’m not really sure exactly what more I want until you, Mr Device Manufacturer, show me what there is that I may want. It could be cool apps. Or maybe – and perhaps more likelier – it could be a really cool device that runs cool apps that do things in really cool or new and interesting ways, far more than just showing me the time, how many steps I’ve walked today and notifications from my smartphone.

Perhaps my current watch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, represents the peak of expectations from this type and generation of device and its capabilities at the moment. Maybe the coolness of it right now is as much as I’ll ever expect.

But I see nothing else out there at the moment, from any manufacturer on any platform, that lets me believe there’s a better mousetrap to consider.

Then, of course, there’s Apple Watch that’s due in April and about which Apple will be talking at an event in San Francisco at 10am Pacific time (5pm GMT) today, Monday March 9.

If I were looking at what I read about Apple Watch at the moment and consider where all that reporting and narrative would fit on any Gartner Hype Cycle, it would unquestionably be approaching the peak of inflated expectations.

And yet.

I think today’s event – with expectations that are undoubtedly huge and possibly inflated – will include some eye-openers for anyone who a) has any current brand of smartwatch, b) has a menu of things they’d like to see in a smartwatch that they currently don’t see, and c) is wondering how a smartwatch is going to play a role in business communication and in the workplace.

Much of what I see people saying about Apple Watch in recent weeks has focused on features and functionality of the device itself. In the absence of any word from Apple on such topics – and there isn’t any – it’s all so much speculation and opinion until that event at 5pm GMT today.

Some of it, though, is informed opinion, worth paying attention to and setting some worthwhile expectations.

For instance:

Ars Technica, March 5: What to expect when we “spring forward” with Apple on March 9:

[…] What we’re likely to get on Monday is an actual launch date, more specific pricing information for all three versions of the product and their bands, and some kind of showcase of third-party apps. At iPhone and iPad launches, Apple usually has at least one or two devs come on stage to walk the audience through a demo that shows what the new hardware is capable of. iOS still enjoys the widest and deepest third-party support of any mobile platform, so we’d expect third-party support to be a major selling point for the Apple Watch as well.

WIRED, March 6 – What to Expect from the Apple Watch Event Monday:

[…] We should hear about clever functionality, like how the the Apple Watch can unlock your hotel room and your car. Apple execs will likely show off myriad health-tracking features, as well as the “Power Reserve” mode that strips the device’s functionality down to being just a watch—and might save you from having to charge it twice a day. Tim Cook will probably show eagerness about using it to buy food at Panera, because Tim Cook apparently loves using Apple Pay to buy food at Panera.

9to5 Mac, March 6: Sources offer hands-on Apple Watch details: battery life, unannounced features, and more:

[…] The Apple Watch’s battery life has concerned many prospective customers, as Apple said only that the Watch will need to be charged nightly. Earlier this year, we reported that Apple’s development targets for Apple Watch battery life were 2.5-4 hours for heavy app usage, versus 19 hours per day of combined usage between light app access, notifications, and Glances. Sources who have handled the Apple Watch tell us that Apple has improved the device’s battery life, noting that the final Apple Watch should be able to handle 5 hours of fairly heavy application usage, and it and won’t run out of battery during a typical day of mixed active and passive use. However, the source says that the device will still need to be charged nightly, as it will definitely not last through a second full day.

And so forth.

And yet.

I want to hear about something really interesting that let’s me do something equally interesting or new. For instance:

TechCrunch, March 6: The Apple Watch Is Time, Saved:

[…] People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck. One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

Nieman Journalism Lab, March 5: The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists:

[…] While checking your phone is still not acceptable in all settings, it still beats the palpable sense of impatience associated with raising your wrist. Checking your smartwatch in company is going to require a new set of social norms to become natural and commonplace. Confusing what’s essentially a miniaturised smartphone with a conventional timepiece is an awkward behavior partially caused by these early smartwatches’ skeuomorphism, the design tendency to create technologies that mimic analog or real-world products in order to make themselves easier for users to understand. Eventually though, one imagines that, as Apple has done before, the idea of a watch as a reference point for these devices will grow less and less relevant.

Distinct behaviour shifts.

And this:

Financial Times, March 6: Apple tests luxury appeal with gold watch:

[…] Apple Watch is the first new product category to emerge from the company since Jobs’ death in 2011. Its ambitious pricing and luxury styling shows how Mr Cook and his design chief, Sir Jonathan Ive, hope Apple can transcend Silicon Valley to enter the more prestigious and lucrative worlds of fashion and jewellery. “I do see that the Watch is a move away from what is traditionally understood as consumer electronics,” Sir Jonathan said at a conference last year. “Apple has always been about ‘affordable luxury’: at the higher end of the price range and with a premium feel, but it’s always been within reach of the ordinary consumer,” says Jan Dawson, technology analyst at Jackdaw Research. “This is the first time that Apple has moved into straightforward luxury.”

Bloomberg, March 6: Apple’s Secret Lab Lets Facebook [plus BMW, Starwood Hotels and others] Fine-Tune Apps Before the Watch’s Debut:

[…] As Apple’s first new device since the iPad in 2010, the stakes are high for Apple Watch, and the sophistication of the apps available is critical in wooing buyers. Just as the App Store has been a key reason for the iPhone’s success, tools for Apple Watch will help determine how customers use the gadget and whether it will be a sales hit. The watch must be paired with an iPhone to fully work, and anything less than seamless integration may alienate potential customers. […] Optimism over Apple’s new products, including the watch, has helped send the company’s shares to record highs in recent weeks. Sales of the new device in the first fiscal year may reach almost 14 million, according to the average estimates of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Researcher Strategy Analytics projects Apple will take 55 percent of global smartwatch sales this year, when total shipments may reach 28.1 million units, up from 4.6 million in 2014.

Re/code, March 6: Apple Watch: What to Look For at Monday’s Event:

[…] Apple’s greatest challenge may not be outselling competitors in the wearable space – the first generation of Android smartwatches have gotten off to a sluggish start – but rather, convincing consumers to buy. […] Industry analysts and Wall Street investors are bullish on the watch, and Apple’s ability to energize a nascent consumer category. The company has done it before with the 2010 introduction of the iPad, which ignited the sleepy tablet business.

The Guardian/Observer, March 8: Crunch time: how the Apple Watch could create a $1tn company:

[…] Despite the pundits, on Wall Street and in the industry it is hard to find anyone to agree that the watch could flop. James McQuivey of Forrester Research said last week that “20 million people in the US alone are inclined to buy something new from Apple, giving Apple an easy shot at converting 10 million people to buy one between the US and international markets. We stand by our initial assessment that 10m units sold by year-end is likely.” McQuivey sounds like a pessimist compared to Huberty, who forecasts 30m, and Robert Leitao of Braeburn Group, who suggests 40m by the end of the year. The most pessimistic is Gene Munster, a stock analyst at Piper Jaffray, who reckons 8m.  The lowest of those numbers would dwarf the existing smartwatch market, where the biggest player, Pebble, has shipped just over 1m units in two years, and devices using Google’s “Android Wear” from companies including Samsung, Motorola and LG shipped just 720,000 in 2014. In all, 6.8m smartwatches shipped last year, according to research company Smartwatch Group, at an average price of $189, creating a market worth $1.3bn.

With so much opinion floating around, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to really pay attention to and what to largely ignore.

Whatever we hear from Apple today, I think it will be news that will mark the beginning of the second stage in the development of the smartwatches segment of the wearable technology industry.

It could also be as disruptive to the watch industry – all watches not only luxury brands – as the launch of the iPod was to the music industry just after the turn of the century, as the launch of the iPhone was to the mobile phone business barely half a decade later, and – as some media reports point out – the launch of the iPad was to the tablet market just five years ago.

And finally, if you compare the Apple Watch image above with the photo of the Gear 2 Neo at the top of this post, you might notice how similar the watch faces look on both devices. That’s because the one on the Gear 2 Neo is actually the Apple Watch Watchface created by Jehezkiel Eugene S and available to buy in Samsung’s Gear Apps Store. It’s the best-looking watch face I’ve seen to customize my Gear 2 Neo.

Apple Watch – already making a visual impact.

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