What Do You Do When Your Solid Gold Apple Watch Is Obsolete?

On last week’s episode of The Committed Podcast, Ian, Rob and I were speculating on the prices of the Apple Watch when it is finally released. We know the base price of the sport model, with the plastic watchband: $349. But for the others, not a clue.

My guess for the solid gold watch was a bit lower than theirs, but other people have speculated even higher prices. My thought was that Apple couldn’t see a gold watch at a high price if it becomes obsolete in a year. People who pay for premium watches keep them for a lifetime, and pass them on to their children or grandchildren.

The thought had crossed my mind that they might be upgradable. Imagine that, if the high-end Apple Watch costs, say, $10,000, you can upgrade it with future internal models for a few hundred dollars. (I see that John Gruber is suggesting this as well.)

But there’s a problem with this idea: it suggests that Apple will never change the form factor of the watch, that it will always have the same shape and size. And it’s a pretty fair bet that future models will be thinner, and may have slightly different shapes.

The upgrade idea might wore for a few generations, but it wouldn’t be a long-term possibility. Maybe Apple will let you trade in their watches, for new models; Apple could melt down the gold and use it for new watches. Because one thing about luxury watches is their style; it’s pretty much frozen in a style that will live on for decades without looking outmoded. The Apple Watch we’ve seen so far will probably look like the first iPods when compared with new models in 5 years or so.

Apple has to balance two competing concepts with the Apple Watch: the need for tech devices that are useful, and that can evolve as their capabilities expand, and the need for a device that people want to keep for a long time. Having a luxury model prevents the company from treating this product family as they treat iPods and iWatches. The more expense the high-end Apple Watch, the more tension there will be between these two concepts.

2 thoughts on “What Do You Do When Your Solid Gold Apple Watch Is Obsolete?

  1. Right now most people under 35 have zero use for a wristwatch, and most of those who still use them (especially ones costing more than $150) use them at least partially as jewelry. Apple seems to be throwing the kitchen sink into their Watch in order to (a) provide value to those wondering about it or on the fence, (b) offering multiple styles so people can express their individuality for so personal (to use Apple’s jargon) a device, and (c) make a feint towards jewelry, crass consumerism and Veblen goods for those with excessive funds they don’t know what to do with.

    The watch does seem to be a bit thick. If I were to get one I think I’d get the cheapest (and appreciably lighter) aluminum case model, and simply expect it to become deprecated after a few years. While it’s true that historically expensive items like watches have been built (and priced) to last generations, I think it’s instructive to consider the example of cameras. In the past they took were built to last decades, but with the advent of digital (and successive, quick generations of technological advancement, along with features and that blow away chemistry-based image quality) people have quickly come to regard cameras as products with a limited life. People buy $400 digital cameras and get new ones after a few years; I can see people seeing the Watch this way too if successive generations are much improved (features, battery life).

    I suggested to Ben Evans that if the Watch were to reach 4-digit prices Apple might offer hardware upgrades to the gold models and he dismissed it as very unlikely. With Apple’s history I can see why he’d say that, but I feel that under Cook – and given that it’s his baby – Apple might indeed offer at least one-generation upgrade of the expensive gold Watches (especially if we see a revision as soon as a year from now with more sensors) just to keep those high-end customers ‘surprised and delighted’ (a term they hammer into reps at the Apple Store). It shouldn’t be a difficult upgrade if the cases remain the same size, and if a new model came out in a year without an upgrade path not only would 1st-gen buyers be irked but it could depress sales of 2nd-gen models. By offering an upgrade to the most expensive line Apple would keep happy its richest customers (and maybe give people thinking of the mid-tier a reason to consider stepping up to gold).

  2. Right now most people under 35 have zero use for a wristwatch, and most of those who still use them (especially ones costing more than $150) use them at least partially as jewelry. Apple seems to be throwing the kitchen sink into their Watch in order to (a) provide value to those wondering about it or on the fence, (b) offering multiple styles so people can express their individuality for so personal (to use Apple’s jargon) a device, and (c) make a feint towards jewelry, crass consumerism and Veblen goods for those with excessive funds they don’t know what to do with.

    The watch does seem to be a bit thick. If I were to get one I think I’d get the cheapest (and appreciably lighter) aluminum case model, and simply expect it to become deprecated after a few years. While it’s true that historically expensive items like watches have been built (and priced) to last generations, I think it’s instructive to consider the example of cameras. In the past they took were built to last decades, but with the advent of digital (and successive, quick generations of technological advancement, along with features and that blow away chemistry-based image quality) people have quickly come to regard cameras as products with a limited life. People buy $400 digital cameras and get new ones after a few years; I can see people seeing the Watch this way too if successive generations are much improved (features, battery life).

    I suggested to Ben Evans that if the Watch were to reach 4-digit prices Apple might offer hardware upgrades to the gold models and he dismissed it as very unlikely. With Apple’s history I can see why he’d say that, but I feel that under Cook – and given that it’s his baby – Apple might indeed offer at least one-generation upgrade of the expensive gold Watches (especially if we see a revision as soon as a year from now with more sensors) just to keep those high-end customers ‘surprised and delighted’ (a term they hammer into reps at the Apple Store). It shouldn’t be a difficult upgrade if the cases remain the same size, and if a new model came out in a year without an upgrade path not only would 1st-gen buyers be irked but it could depress sales of 2nd-gen models. By offering an upgrade to the most expensive line Apple would keep happy its richest customers (and maybe give people thinking of the mid-tier a reason to consider stepping up to gold).

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