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.

4 thoughts on “The Apple Watch: One Year In

  1. I think that Apple is leaving a lot on the table by not fleshing out Homekit – and making both the watch and the phone devices that can control all your homekit devices.

  2. Liam, I agree on HomeKit. That’s been about as impactful as CarPlay so far. I would like to see Apple do better. It’s disappointing that, for the most part, any major initiative they launch that requires cooperation with other companies doesn’t seem to bear much fruit. Perhaps other companies are wary of getting in bed with an 800-lb gorilla. But Apple doesn’t seem to play well with others, even if/when it needs to to make its vision a reality.

    Of course, that’s not the main problem with the Apple Watch. The main problem, in my view, is how slow it is. My Apple Watch has the ability to control my Wink hub, and I could use it to turn off my lights when I go to bed. But I use Amazon Echo instead, because the response is almost instant, whereas the Watch takes a good 20-30 seconds to spin up the Wink app. That’s an eternity in today’s tech terms. You could blame Wink, I suppose, but all third-party apps seem to be that slow to load, and native apps aren’t much better. Besides, the Wink works very fast with the Echo.

    The watch could be really valuable to me in this and so many other instances, because pulling out the phone and opening the Wink app or navigating to the Today screen for shortcuts is also much more time-consuming than just using the Echo. The watch would be much more convenient and much more essential if it were fast enough to make it a true improvement over taking your phone out of your pocket for things like this.

    That said, I still wear mine every day and like what it offers. It’s just too darn slow.

  3. I doubt there is such a thing as a killer app. What is the killer app for the iPhone?

    As I look at what other watch users say, I am struck by the diversity of usage and that there is no one thing that everyone values save maybe notifications.

    I think a lot of the watch’s problems can be traced back to battery life, and the compromises made in the service of it.

    Slowing down the processor at the wrong times, no always on time display, I’m sure there’s a lot more.

    Sometimes I tell people that its great, when it works! It has such great promise that it’s doubly frustrating when it doesn’t.

    From that one in four Siri dictation that fails miserably, to getting the contacts menu when I double click the side button instead of Apple Pay.

    I agree about the slowness. With interactions being so brief, any slowness is even more irritating.

    The NFC possibilities are fantastic, if other companies would run with it. Why should I be carrying my Prius key, when the watch can do that. Why doesn’t my house “know” me like my car does? What about my Mac and online accounts? The watch can authenticate all that in a convenient way that phones can not.

    The health monitoring features are also a big potential plus.

    If all this stuff was working, I think the watch would go from nice to need.

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