The Apple Watch – is this the company’s mid-life crisis?

This week saw the official launch of Apple’s new Watch. It won’t be long now until you’ll be seeing people walking along the street staring at their wrists in consternation, rather than into the rectangular glow of their phones. Wearables are the future, and Apple is about to make it happen.

But I’m a little concerned about this.

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The keynote address from Tim Cook that released the Watch into the world felt somewhat stale and lacking in excitement. Many of the features had already been announced, and it was only the poorly judged decision to show Christie Turlington Burns parading around her shiny new digital timepiece while visiting a poverty stricken part of Africa, that was new. In fairness Ms Burns was training for a marathon that will raise money to alleviate the poverty and help young women safely deliver their babies, but the juxtaposition of a luxury device whose cost could pay for the medicines sorely lacking in the facilities was an odd one.

And in many ways that’s the problem with the Watch. It’s a confusing device.

On one hand it’s an exciting new territory for Apple, where it is not only competing with the Android Wear devices that launched last year, but also with established watch makers that have status and history which even eclipses that of this Californian upstart. Apple’s weight in the technology world and the widespread popularity of the iPhone also means that the Watch could finally usher in the age of wearables that’s been tantalisingly close for a few years now.

But conversely there was something missing from the launch, and the buzz since then in the media has been focussed around the new super-thin MacBook that was also revealed at the event. Apple’s videos were more obsessed with the metals than the actual usefulness of the product, and the heartbeat thing just looks like the kind of daft feature that Samsung usually cram into their products. Now, before I go any further, let me be clear that I like Smartwatches. I’ve used a couple in the past, and am sporting a Sony Smartwatch 3 while I type this. They are, of course, a luxury product (after all they’re merely a remote display for your phone) but the convenience offered by a simple glance at the wrist is a lot of fun, plus actually useful when you’re out and about, cooking, or otherwise dexterously challenged. Up until now though I’ve always enjoyed them as an idea, but spending up to £200 on one just felt like an ostentatious step too far. After all, that’s a fair chunk of the price of a new phone. Now the Apple Watch has entered the fray and it’s prices are, well, a bit silly.

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Although the base Sports models (which features the exact same technology as the more expensive versions) starts at £299, the normal dress Watch is around £500, and the Edition range starts at £8000 and goes up to a frankly ridiculous £13,500. A solid gold, multi-thousand pound watch, that will be out of date in a couple of years? Is that…cool?

I’ve used Macs for years and loved them. There are two iPads in our house at the moment and I can’t see them being replaced by any rival products in the future. I don’t use an iPhone any more, just because they’re too expensive and I prefer the direction Android is going. In short, I like Apple stuff. It’s a little disconcerting then that the Watch, which is the first new product category that has been developed and introduced under Tim Cook’s tenure, feels, well, a very middle-aged product. By that I don’t mean that it arrives heralded by minstrels and adorned with a leather codpiece. Rather that it’s the slightly tacky but thinks it’s cool kind of device that costs too much.

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I’m sure it will sell bucket loads, Apple stuff always does, but is this the first chink in the company’s armour to appear in a long time? Is the self-satisfied gloating over it’s cost the sign that Cook and Co have lost touch with the general populace and now only make things for super-models who want to time their jogs? To be fair Apple stuff has always been pricey, but the Macs, iPhones, and even iPads had powerful features that made them useful in their own right. The Watch is a companion device to an iPhone that can pretty much only tell the time when separated from its pocket brain, and only while its battery remains intact.

I really don’t know how to feel about the Watch. Is it innovative or indulgent? A glimpse of the future, or the sign of a company beginning to believe its own hype?

I guess only time will tell.

What do you think about the Apple Watch? Do you want one? Let me know in the comments. 

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6 thoughts on “The Apple Watch – is this the company’s mid-life crisis?

  1. Great article! I have had zero interest in an iWatch since its announcement. And I am a huge Apple fan, I usually love their products. It feels to me that all of their fresh ideas departed with Mr. Jobs

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  2. That is a concern. Several Apple enthusiasts I’ve talked to have had similar responses. I guess the company is now truly in the post-Jobs era. I wonder how it will turn out?

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  3. How do you define “cool”. It’s always a bit of a finger-in-the-air subjective guess.

    For me: Cool is creating a new fashion in your garage; cool is punks putting on a fashion show, or mods putting together a Dandy outfit from Camden Market. If it is expensive, it’s because it’s the one-off jacket hand-made by Vivienne Westwood being sold for thousands in Liberty that’s rare, and unique and part of fashion history. It’s not Gap clothing with diamonds sewn into it.

    The coolest piece of tech on the market is the Raspberry Pi. It’s the cheap hackable computer that kids are using to learn and create stuff with. You can build robots in your garage with a Raspberry Pi. That’s cool.

    Apple hasn’t been cool in that sense for a long time. But it’s not been offensive either. The traditional analogy for Apple is the car industry, it’s a BMW or Mercedes Benz, not a Ford or a Nissan.

    Watch Edition is the equivalent would be a gold-plated BMW being sold for millions. I’m sure BMW would sell a few, but people would laugh. Would a gold-bling BMW harm the reputation of BMW as a company? Would you still buy a BMW if a footballer drove by in one made from gold and everybody laughed?

    Here’s why I can’t be objective about it: The watch offends my working class sensibility. I feel working class ire in its presence. I can’t write about it without faintly hearing Jarvis Cocker screaming “Common People like you” at the Leadmill and thinking about the rising income inequality. I find it hard to feel anything other than ire at its presence. It’s not even working class ‘Essex’ bling uncool like the gold iPhone; it’s far uncover than that. Deeply, deeply uncool.

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    • Thank you Lou, for encapsulating some of the intangibles that have been knocking around my head. You’re absolutely right. My own working class hackles have been up for a little while about Apple. Sure, its products have always been expensive, but I was able maintain MacBooks myself, and therefore spread the cost across several years. The closed systems of recent years has left me pretty much unable to buy into the Mac line, and second hand machines are not as easy a choice due to their unrepairable nature.

      When I saw the Edition prices the first, gut reaction, was that they were truly offensive. Especially when they were displaying poverty stricken parts of Africa on the big screen and had a white supermodel wearing the most superfluous piece of overpriced luxury tech that has ever been invented. The fact that they couldn’t see the disconnect was the moment where I realised that they have really lost their perspective on reality. You’d never see a punk in an Apple ad, and the 1984 counterculture vibe that launched the Mac seems a far distant memory.

      Maybe that’s the coolness part. When I started using Apple products they were the outsiders choice. It meant you’d have less software and hardware, but I believed in the environment of OSX and the way it bucked the trend of Windows. The customer felt at the centre of the experience.

      Now, the customers wallet is the focus, and with mine being slim I don’t really register on the company’s radar.

      The Watch feels like the most comfortable, slipper-like product
      Apple has ever launched. And there’s nothing more uncool than that.

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  4. Another thought: Income inequality has been rising for 30 years and we now have a re-emergence of an upper class as a distinct group as it was pre-WW2, which was the great social leveller (not in a good way).

    Apple is a trend-setter and where it goes other companies follow. So what really worries me is that one of the true take-home for other companies is: “A version of your product for commoners; a different version for the upper class.”

    So where Apple goes other’s might follow. If it’s successful, which given Apple’s track record is likely, that’s what we’ll see more of in the future. Two-tier consumerism for a two-tier society. 😦

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    • Yes, that is a definite worry for me. The lowest iPhone always being crippled to 8GB of storage is a sign of how the lower classes are not allowed to enjoy a full experience even though they’ve bought the oldest tech. It wouldn’t kill Apple to make them 16GB. If they’re worried about eating into sales of higher models then they should differentiate them more. I’m sure people would still buy the S model in huge numbers.

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