Is the Apple Watch the New iPhone?

In last week’s presentation of new products, Apple covered only two items, the Apple Watch and the iPhone. And they led with the Apple Watch, which meant they were prioritizing the iPhone; save the best for last.

But the opinions of many tech journalists, and, apparently, consumers, suggest that the Apple Watch is the new, hot gadget. Many journalists have pointed out that there are no real innovations in this year’s iPhones. This is, of course, an “s” year, that Apple has gotten us used to; years when iPhone models add an “s” to their names, and feature only incremental updates. (However, some key technologies have been introduced in “s” years.) The iPhone XS and XS Max are extensions of last year’s iPhone X, and the iPhone XR is a “budget” version of the more expensive model.

But the Apple Watch caught the attention of many people. Apparently, pre-orders have been “above expectations,” while iPhone sales are tepid. One reason may be the new, large size of the Apple Watch, converting what has been a fairly small display to one that will be much more readable. And there’s the glitzy new Infograph watch face with multiple complications. And the stainless steel model now comes in gold.

Some are suggesting that the addition of an ECG feature may be swaying consumers, but I find that unlikely; while this is a useful medical tool, it’s hard to imagine that everyone wants to run ECGs on themselves (and I worry about what happens when people try to understand them). Fall detection is a very interesting feature, and, while it’s mostly for the elderly, there are other cases when it can be useful: epilepsy, perhaps car accidents, and more. It could be that consumers are seeing the potential of a wearable as a medical device, and that these limited features have convinced them to invest in one, in part because of existing technologies, but also because of the potential of the Apple Watch to change the way they look at their health with other technologies in the future.

This comes at a good time for Apple. The smartphone market has been mature for years, and is limping along on incremental upgrades. It’s good for manufacturers that many smartphones take a beating, so even if people keep them longer, they eventually need to upgrade. But it’s hard to imagine many interesting new features being added to this technology. Other than the new size, and the improved display and internals, there’s nothing in the new iPhone that sets it apart from last year’s model. (And that “groundbreaking” dual-camera system is neither new nor truly groundbreaking.)

Apple knows this, and will be pushing much of its innovation to the Apple Watch in the coming years. The company has already drastically increased the price of the device, in order to turn it into a cash cow, and there’s one big change they can make that could increase sales exponentially: make it a standalone device. The Apple Watch still requires an iPhone to set it up, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t exist on its own, so Android users can have Apple Watches too. While this wouldn’t offer full functionality, since there wouldn’t be the same tight integration with apps, notifications, etc. – an app on Android could manage the actual setup, and everything would function over cellular access, and all data could be stored in the cloud. The Apple Watch can already work without the iPhone after the initial setup, using cellular access, but it’s only a question of time before Apple makes it an independent device.

Of course, this is only a temporary solution; there are so many limits to the Apple Watch that it will never be able to do too much, but Apple’s focusing on health (they barely mentioned fitness in presenting this new model) shows how they want to make this device essential.

The iPhone will continue to sell by the tens of millions, but as sales become flat, Apple is poised to have another success on its hands with the Apple Watch. It will be interesting to see how far this device goes.

What the Apple Watch’s FDA clearance actually means – The Verge

Yesterday, Apple announced that the US Food and Drug Administration cleared two new features for the Apple Watch Series 4. One is an advanced method of monitoring the heart called an electrocardiogram (EKG), and the other is the Watch’s ability to detect and notify the user of an irregular heart rhythm. Both features will be available on the device later in 2018 (not at launch). The news sounds exciting, but there are some important caveats that limit how useful the new gadget will be.

Interesting. I haven’t gone back to the presentation to check, but I thought they said it was FDA approved; it’s not, and there’s quite a difference between approval and clearance.

Source: What the Apple Watch’s FDA clearance actually means – The Verge

The Quiet Demise of the Apple Watch Editiion

Anyone who follows Apple remembers the launch of the Apple Watch and the announcement of the solid gold Apple Watch Edition. This device was priced from $10,000 to $17,000, and only available at select (luxury) retailers and Apple Stores.

Writing about this product after its announcement, I said:

“There will be limited quantities of the Apple Watch Edition. It is priced from $10,000, and it will be available in select retail stores.”

Mr. Cook paused for a half-second just after saying the price, and the silence in the room was palpable. Watching Cook say these lines, I was struck by what seemed to be a bit of embarrassment, as though he wasn’t fully behind the idea of selling a watch at this price.

Before the launch of the Apple Watch, knowing that there would be a high-priced model, I watched as many tech journalists, many of them watch aficionados, attempted to predict its pricing, and justify the ridiculous prices that some watches sell for. The problem was, they were mistakenly comparing it to a hand made luxury watch, trying to justify both the potential price for Apple’s device and the prices that they paid for watches. I had said:

“The Apple Watch Edition is not a luxury watch; it’s just a gold-cased version of the cheaper watch. There’s nothing exclusive about it, nothing special. It’s not like more expensive watches where you pay for complex machinery. Yes, there is gold; that will make it more expensive than the other models. But not that much. Estimates of the cost of the gold suggest that the metal would cost less than $1,000.”

I went on to say:

I wonder if Tim Cook’s embarrassment is a tell; a sign that Cook didn’t want to make a gold watch. That the Apple Watch Edition is a vanity project for Jony Ive, a luxury watch aficionado who rides in a Bentley to work every day. A $10,000 watch (or even $17,000, the highest priced model) is not Apple. While the company is often criticized for selling products at prices higher than competitors, Apple has always backed these prices up with higher quality and better design. Apple has never been a company of bling, and the Apple Watch Edition is bling, nothing more.

The idea of a solid gold (case) Apple Watch led many people to speculate on upgrades. With a tech device whose lifespan could be, say, two or three years, would it make sense to offer an upgrade path, or just expect people to chuck it when it no longer supported the latest operating system?

In March, 2016, less than a year after its launch, Apple started making the Apple Watch Edition disappear from its website and stores. This was a sign that not only was it not selling, but that it was harming people’s perception of Apple.

When the Apple Watch Series 2 was released in September 2016, the gold version was gone, replaced by a white ceramic Apple Watch Edition, priced at (merely) $1249 and $1299. Series 3, the following year, saw both gray and white ceramic models, at $1299 and $1349.

This year, the Apple Watch Edition is dead. There was clearly not enough demand for a product at that price, and selling that sort of “luxury” product just never fit with Apple’s approach. Sure, Apple’s products are not cheap, but it’s not a company with a history of luxury priced items. The price of the Apple Watch has increased substantially this year, making some models quite expensive – such as the stainless steel with Milanese loop at $849 – and there’s a whole line of Hermès versions, with fancy leather bands, that sell for as much as $1499. With the Hermès version, Apple offloads some of the baggage of the luxury pricing to a secondary brand that it partners with, making it look like it’s not so much Apple responsible for the high prices. And it still maintains some models that are priced exclusively for those who want to show off.

It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch Edition was a failed experiment, likely fueled by Jony Ive who wanted to turn Apple into a luxury watch brand. It’s a shame that Tim Cook allowed it to happen in the first place.

The Increasing Price of the Apple Watch

WatchThe Apple Watch has gone from an affordable accessory to an expensive device, rivaling the cost of a smartphone. This year’s price increases are stunning. During the presentation of the new models, there was no mention of price, as there was for the iPhone.

Let’s look at the history of the Apple Watch’s pricing through the aluminum models, which are the basic, and most popular models. The first model – called Apple Watch (1st generation), but generally called “Series 0,” debuted at $349 and $399. (I’ll give pairs of prices, for the two sizes, 38mm and 42mm, and, for this year’s model, 40mm and 44mm.) The following model, Series 1, had a base price of $269 and $299. Apple had realized that the device was popular, and could lower the price.

The Series 2 added GPS, and the price increased a lot: this model cost $369 and $399. And the Series 3, with GPS only, dropped that price to $329 and $359. If you wanted cellular access on your watch, that cost $399 and $429, or $70 extra.

This year, Apple has greatly increased the prices of the device. Yes, the watch is a bit larger, but given the economies of scale, with a popular device, they should have tried to maintain the same price point as last year. With GPS only, it costs $399 and $429, and with GPS and cellular, the price is $499 and $529. That’s a $100 premium on last year’s models.

Initially, you could see the Apple Watch as a mid-price accessory for your iPhone; now it’s almost as expensive as a cheap iPhone. (Yes, I’m not comparing it to the price of the new iPhone XS Max, but to the price of, say, an iPhone 7 or 8.) But look at the prices of the stainless steel models, which cost $200 more. The stainless steel Apple Watch – which only offers GPS + cellular options – costs $749, the same price as the new iPhone XR.

It’s not common for prices to increase this much for a device. Yes, there are more features, but until the iPhone X, that device only had small price increases, and was most often the same price as the previous year’s model. (Not counting the additional cost for the larger display versions.) We’ve seen the Apple Watch nearly double in price between the Series 1 and Series 4, making it much more of an investment, and less of an impulse purchase.

One reason for this is that the device is now mature, and Apple is charging what it can. Early on, the lower prices got people to try out the device, and now that there is a solid user base willing to upgrade every year or two, Apple is betting that people will be amenable to paying more. This could be a winning strategy for their bottom line, or it could fail, as many people see it as simply too expensive to upgrade.

It’s worth noting that Apple Care for the Apple Watch has also increased, from $49 to $89, making the total cost of a watch with protection even more expensive.

Some Pros and Cons of the New Apple Watch

Apple presented the Series 4 Apple Watch yesterday. As has been the case with each new iteration of this device, the upgrade has no major new features; I go into a bit of detail in this article.

Two interesting points, however. The first is that existing bands will be compatible with the new, larger models. Early reports, based on leaks, suggested that that would not be the case, and my reaction was that if Apple made a new size for bands, they would meet with a great deal of discontent, because many people have spent a lot of money on bands. It’s not that hard to maintain compatibility; the new models are 0.7mm and 1.6mm wider than the previous models. All Apple had to do was taper the top and bottom to fit the bands.

The second point is that the smallest model is big. When I saw the new sizes, I thought of my former Macworld colleague Caitlin McGarry, who has been the poster child for the Apple Watch on small wrists. She tweeted a photo of her with the 40mm watch yesterday, from the hands-on area after the presentation:


Caitlin is not that far off the center of the bell curve as far as women’s sizes go; many women – and some men as well – have small wrists. And many people have wrists that are rounder than flat, which makes the watch look much larger. This could sway a lot of potential Apple Watch users, notably women and teenagers, toward other devices.

Should Apple make the Apple Watch in three sizes? Perhaps; if they’re going to increase the size again, they really have to. It’s no use making the device unusable for a fairly large percentage of their target market.

Apple Introduces New iPhones and Apple Watches

Today Apple introduced the latest models of the iPhone and Apple Watch at the Steve Jobs Theater on the new Apple campus. If you’ve been following the Mac news sites, you’ve seen much of what was announced; leaks made this event less surprising that it often is. This is an “s” year, when Apple iterates the latest model iPhone without any major new features. There are two new top-of-the-line iPhones and one inexpensive model, similar in many respects to the flagship iPhones Xs.

As for the Apple Watch, the update was more interesting. Some major new health-related features join new sizes for the device. A redesign of some of the watch faces means that you will have access to more information at a glance. A new gold stainless steel model adds a bit of class to the product line.

Here’s what’s new:

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

Apple Watch use at lights leads to fine for student – BBC News

A Canadian student has been fined Canadian $400 (£230, $310) for looking at her Apple smartwatch while waiting at traffic lights.
Victoria Ambrose was found guilty of breaking Ontario’s distracted driving law.
In court, Ms Ambrose said she looked at the watch to find out the time.
This claim was rejected by the judge who said smartwatches were a distraction as much as a “cellphone taped to someone’s wrist”.

Ms Ambrose got a traffic ticket in April after being seen by a police officer from the University of Guelph lingering at a red light at a junction on the campus.
In court, the police officer said Ms Ambrose did not move off when the light turned green because her attention was fixed on the watch. She only started moving when the officer shone a side light from the police cruiser at her car.

I don’t get this. The person was at a red light, and was not driving dangerously; the fact that she didn’t start driving when the light turned green shouldn’t merit a fine. How much more distracting is it that, say, using the in-car GPS when at a light, or even lighting a cigarette when driving? There’s a weird double-standard here about such things. Yes, using a cellphone is dangerous, and wrong, but if you’re at a light and need to check the time, this sounds excessive.

Source: Apple Watch use at lights leads to fine for student – BBC News

How to Play Music on the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is the ultimate portable device. It’s great for tracking your activity, managing notifications, and more.

You can even use the Apple Watch to listen to music. There are three ways to do this: with the iPhone, with music synced to the Apple Watch, or by streaming directly to the Apple Watch. Here’s how to play music on the Apple Watch.

Read the rest of the article on the Mac Security Blog.

The Apple Watch and Third-Party Watch Faces

There has been some suggestion that Apple might allow third-party watch faces for the Apple Watch soon. Apparently, some code in the latest watchOS beta suggests this possibility.

Early on, I wondered why Apple didn’t offer the ability for third-party watch faces to be installed on the Apple Watch, but then I thought back to a very brief experience I had using the Pebble smartwatch. The thousands of watch faces available for free download were mostly horrid. They made the Pebble look like an early Linux interface. If Apple opened up the Apple Watch to third-party watch faces, the store would most likely be flooded with crap.

Of course, Apple’s approach is a bit different than Pebble’s. You would still need an Apple developer account to distribute a watch face, and this would limit many of the crappiest looking faces. However, that might also limit some nice faces by people who can’t or don’t want to pay the $99 per year for a developer account.

I had expected some branded watch faces, similar to the Nike and Hermès faces that are only available with specific watch models. (And the Explorer face, only available on the cellular Apple Watch 3.) Perhaps that’s what Apple will allow: a limited selection of watch faces from certain brands.

It is a tough call; it dilutes the image of the Apple Watch, but it does allow for more customization. If Apple does allow custom watch faces, it will be interesting to so what users choose.

The Next Apple Watch Should Be Round

Time is linear, but the way we measure it is circular. As the earth rotates, causing the sun to seem to rise and set, days pass according to a familiar rhythm. When the sun is high in the sky we call at noon; when is on when it is on the opposite side of the earth we called at midnight. These two markers are what clocks have long used as reference points.

The round shape of clocks and watches is no accident. It attempts to reproduce this movement of the sun around the earth, this rise and fall and repetition of day and night. Of course there are other ways to measure time: water clocks, hourglasses, and digital clocks, for example, all track time, some with a visible element showing its passage (such as water clocks and hourglasses) and others, like digital clocks, that display time just as a set of abstract numbers.

As the Apple Watch has reached maturity, it’s time for Apple to reconsider the shape of the device. While the rectangle with rounded corners is good for reading text, it doesn’t make one think of a watch. To be fair, this isn’t a watch; it’s a wrist computer, and the shape of the device suggests that much more than it does a timepiece. While there are some iconic square or rectangular watches — think of the Cartier tank watch — most watches are round. There is something relaxing, reassuring about a circular device on the wrist. It is linked to the tradition and history of watches, and to the circular movement of the sun and the way we represent time.

Watch faceI use a round watch face on my Apple Watch most of the time; I’m not a big fan of digital time displays, and, as a friend of mine has said, a digital watch tells you what time it is, but an analog watch — or one with a round display — tells you what time it isn’t. And I find that I can more easily have an idea of what time it is just by glancing at a round face. I don’t have to read numbers and interpret them; the hands alone show me what time it is (or isn’t).

Samsung’s smartwatches are circular, and they look more like watches and less like computers. I think Apple should copy this; not that copying the round shape not that making a watch that is circular would actually be copying Samsung, it would just be aligning the Apple Watch with standard timepieces. Yes, reading emails might be more difficult, but as the last few years have shown, the Apple Watch is not a device that many people used to read text on. Its health and fitness features don’t need to be rectangular; notifications don’t need to have a rectangular display; and most apps would easily accommodate the round shape.

I can’t help thinking, as my as I look at my Apple Watch today, that this device is almost as clunky as those old Casio calculator watches with the tiny buttons, and that, in a few years, will look back at this and snicker. A round Apple Watch, especially if it was thinner, would look much better, it would make the device look less like a computing device and more like a timepiece. Even though that timepiece would have some very advanced computing features, why couldn’t it look less like a wrist computer and more like a watch?