The Apple Watch: One Year In

The Apple Watch was released a year ago, so it’s time for tributes – and takedowns – in pretty much every tech publication. Some publications are calling it a failure, and others are trying to put its (estimated) sales into perspective.

Let’s start with Susie Ochs’ Macworld article, 12 reasons I still wear my Apple Watch every day. Susie – full disclosure, she’s sort of my boss at Macworld – lists the dozen useful features of the Apple Watch. I don’t agree with all of them – I don’t use directions, I don’t bother tracking workouts any more, and I don’t spin planets – but I agree with most of what she says.

I first used the watch when I got mine in June (I didn’t get an order with the first, limited batch), and wore it for a few weeks. I then took it off for a few weeks, before wearing it again. I don’t find it essential, but I have come to depend on it for the following:

  • Telling time
  • Checking the weather
  • Getting notifications
  • Getting text messages
  • Occasionally setting timers

I wouldn’t say that the Apple Watch is essential, and I think Apple greatly oversold its abilities, which has led many people to be underwhelmed. I also think it was priced too high, which has led Apple to drop the price, and led to sales in a number of retail outlets, something that isn’t common with Apple products. But I choose to put mine on every day.

The alternate viewpoint was expressed in an article on Gizmodo that is too dumb to link to, but that the Macalope tore down. I’me really tired of “tech writers” who don’t understand the broader public, and try and impose their blundered views on others. The Apple Watch is not for everyone, but if you can’t appreciate that it really is a good product for some people, you shouldn’t be writing about it, or any technology.

There has also been a spate of articles saying that the Apple Watch is a failure. These opinions are misguided. As Bloomberg points out, the Apple Watch sold about 11.6 million units. Unfortunately, a number of articles, such as this Wall Street Journal article, state that the Apple Watch is a success because it has sold twice as many units as the iPhone in its first year. Neither of these is correct.

Apples and oranges, guys. The iPhone cost a lot more – both for the device, and the contract you needed to use it – and was a new product category. The modern smartphone began with the iPhone (yes, there were others, but not as advanced), and it took a while for people to realize how much they needed smartphones. iPhone sales grew slowly, and didn’t really start taking off until 2010. Remember, a lot of people had phone contracts, and couldn’t just switch to the iPhone. It was also initially exclusive to AT&T in the United States, so it was not available to all phone users. And since the US has two phone standards, the iPhone wasn’t even compatible with the second – CDMA – until 2011. The Apple Watch, on the other hand, tapped into an existing market of a) iPhone users, b) fitness tracker users, and c) early adopters.

So, it’s been a year (more like ten months, for most users who didn’t get one of the first batch), and the Apple Watch is in limbo. It’s not a must-have product, it’s probably overpriced, underpowered, and oversold. But I think it’s here to stay. I think we’ll see a new Apple Watch in the fall, which will, of course, be thinner and lighter, and hopefully cheaper. Apple Watch apps will have to be native to the watch, which will make them load faster, and Apple will have thought up some new features. My only worry is that Apple will pile on features that have little real-world use, such as the tap and draw things you can do on the Apple Watch. (Seriously, has anyone used those other than the first couple of days of using the watch?)

For now, the biggest wearable users are those interested in fitness and health. The Apple Watch has a sketchy history of poor recording and calculation for activity, and Apple needs to fix this. But as wearable usage grows rapidly, Apple needs to cater to this demographic.

Rumors suggest that the next Apple Watch will be a standalone device. This would certainly broaden its appeal; if there were an Android app that could manage it, of course. But users would need a specific data contract for the watch, something that will be a deal-breaker for a lot of users, unless Apple can get carriers to offer very cheap contracts for the Apple Watch, given that it doesn’t use a lot of data.

I think the real problem is that there is no “killer app” for the Apple Watch. There may never be; it may simply be an add-on device that you use for the kinds of reasons I still use mine. And that’s fine; that doesn’t mean that the Apple Watch is a failure, but not every new Apple product can reproduce the success of the iPod and iPhone.

Oh, and that expensive Apple Watch Edition? Don’t expect to see an upgrade.