Some (Almost) Final Thoughts on the Apple Watch

Apple watchNot since the iPhone was launched in 2007 have we known so much about a new Apple product before its launch, and, at the same time, so little. Like the iPhone, the Apple Watch was announced well in advance of its launch because it needs FCC approval. So the pre-announcement showed what the device looks like, and discussed some of what it will do, but little more than that.

Following the announcement in September, journalists were able to hold, and even briefly wear, Apple Watches, but there were simulacra of the real thing. These Potemkin watches had the same shape and size, but none of the internals were finished. The graphics they displayed were just stills showing how certain features might look.

It’s quite interesting to speculate about this product. It’s a new product category, not just for Apple, but for the entire tech industry. (Yes, there are other smart watches, but none of them have anywhere near the feature set as the Apple Watch.) Just as the iPhone took some ideas from an existing product and developed them into a new device, the Apple Watch will do the same thing.

Pricing is one of the big unknowns. I’ve made my predictions, but others are aiming much higher. John Gruber thinks that the Apple Watch Edition will cost more than $10,000, while Marco Arment suggests a lower price at the high end, but also thinks, as I do, that:

“Apple can’t sell it to them at a truly ridiculous price without alienating their base. A $10,000–20,000 starting price would make the Edition relatively affordable compared to many gold watches but ludicrously out of reach for most iPhone owners, possibily alienating millions of Apple customers and tarnishing their image with all of the snobbery and exclusion that comes with the world of five-figure watches.”

Of course, we may all be wrong.

And then there’s the gold. Dr. Drang examined Apple’s patent for a new way of making a gold alloy, which is technically a metal matrix composite, which could contain as little as 28% gold. There’s some interesting trickery going on here. Gold karats are based on weight (or, more technically, mass), and the fact that they are using a low-density ceramic (boron carbide) means that they can offset the weight of the gold, which should be 75% of the total, with the higher volume of the boron carbide.

In other words, the ceramic used in the matrix takes up much more space than the gold, making the matrix itself lighter than if it were all metal. As such, less gold is needed for the same volume as would be used if it were a simple alloy. At least that’s how I understand all this…

This can keep the price of the Apple Watch Edition down, since less gold is used, and may give me a better chance of winning the Apple Watch bet with Dave Mark.

However, I can hear the word “GoldGate” already. Unless the Apple Watch Edition is priced “affordably” – for a gold watch – I can imagine, and would understand, accusations that Apple is using trickery to label the watch 18K gold. I would assume that Apple has their ammunition ready, but this could mar the launch of the Apple Watch.

I asked people if they thought the Apple Watch was attractive. Granted, this is only based on the pictures on Apple’s website; it will be different once you see it in purpose. But only 58% of people (at the time of this writing) said yes, with 42% – me included – saying no.

So, at the time of this writing, there’s a little more than 24 hours before Tim Cook goes on stage to present the Apple Watch. Just as with the iPhone, this will be a pivotal product for Apple. If it succeeds, it will essentially create a new product category; if it fails, it will be Apple’s first marquee failure in recent times. And what if it ends up being just “a hobby” like the Apple TV? We’ll have a better idea tomorrow, and in the coming months.

8 thoughts on “Some (Almost) Final Thoughts on the Apple Watch

  1. The ceramic-impregnated gold for which Apple has a patent – and whose use has been confirmed by Cook and Ive – probably has half (or less) the actual gold of a typical watch; this makes it plausible for the watch to be under $5,000. Gruber seems to think Apple won’t make it that low so as to boost margins, though.

    But if the watch *is* in the $3,000 range Apple surely won’t offer upgraded internals any more than they do for the Mac Pro.

  2. The ceramic-impregnated gold for which Apple has a patent – and whose use has been confirmed by Cook and Ive – probably has half (or less) the actual gold of a typical watch; this makes it plausible for the watch to be under $5,000. Gruber seems to think Apple won’t make it that low so as to boost margins, though.

    But if the watch *is* in the $3,000 range Apple surely won’t offer upgraded internals any more than they do for the Mac Pro.

  3. As John Gruber pointed out, Hublot maked 18-carat Gold-Boron Carbide Ceramic watches long before Apple did. And Hublot watches sell for 20-50,000 dollars on Amazon.com.

    Apple is NOT going to alienate its customers by selling its gold watch for $10,000-$20,000. Apple’s customers expect to pay more for their products because they are worth more.

    After all, who are they going to buy a smartwatch from? Samsung? Android Google? Please. Be realistic. Anyone who claims to be an Apple customer yet complains simply does not belong. Compared to the competition, Apple’s products – be it Mac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad are all highly expensive compared to the Android competitors. Yet they sell spectacularly well.

    Price is NOT a roadblock to purchases.

    All Apple has to do is do a price comparison with common high end watches like Rolex to show how much of a bargain Apple Watch Editions is compared to its real competitors.

    Apple’s true competition is with the high-end watch industry, not the low end. And its products are very fairly priced in that competition.

  4. As John Gruber pointed out, Hublot maked 18-carat Gold-Boron Carbide Ceramic watches long before Apple did. And Hublot watches sell for 20-50,000 dollars on Amazon.com.

    Apple is NOT going to alienate its customers by selling its gold watch for $10,000-$20,000. Apple’s customers expect to pay more for their products because they are worth more.

    After all, who are they going to buy a smartwatch from? Samsung? Android Google? Please. Be realistic. Anyone who claims to be an Apple customer yet complains simply does not belong. Compared to the competition, Apple’s products – be it Mac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad are all highly expensive compared to the Android competitors. Yet they sell spectacularly well.

    Price is NOT a roadblock to purchases.

    All Apple has to do is do a price comparison with common high end watches like Rolex to show how much of a bargain Apple Watch Editions is compared to its real competitors.

    Apple’s true competition is with the high-end watch industry, not the low end. And its products are very fairly priced in that competition.

  5. I don’ think Apple in in competition with high-end watchmakers, nor does it think it does either. Totally different products that share the appellation “watch.”

    Apple Watch is a watch like the iPhone is a phone.

  6. I don’ think Apple in in competition with high-end watchmakers, nor does it think it does either. Totally different products that share the appellation “watch.”

    Apple Watch is a watch like the iPhone is a phone.

  7. While the stuff about the alloy is fascinating, doesn’t it seem like the Edition model will be priced and received based on however Apple wants to position it? That is, if they want to make a play for the ultra-luxury watch crowd, they’ll have to price it so high that it is out of reach of most normal people. The whole point of a luxury item like that is to keep the riff-raff from having access to your status symbol, right?

    On the other hand, if they’re just looking to give their regular users access to a premium product, then I like your chances in the bet.

  8. While the stuff about the alloy is fascinating, doesn’t it seem like the Edition model will be priced and received based on however Apple wants to position it? That is, if they want to make a play for the ultra-luxury watch crowd, they’ll have to price it so high that it is out of reach of most normal people. The whole point of a luxury item like that is to keep the riff-raff from having access to your status symbol, right?

    On the other hand, if they’re just looking to give their regular users access to a premium product, then I like your chances in the bet.

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