Michael Schechter isn’t just a self-professed Apple fanboy; he is also member of our industry, as digital marketing manager for Richline Group (and an occasional columnist for JCK).
His company, Richline, has wholeheartedly embraced the world of wearables. At the JCK show tomorrow, Richline will be holding a walk-in exhibit on wearables from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as a panel discussion on the topic, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. More information here.
Richline is also introducing a slew of new wearables at the show, including compatibles for devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone. More information on that here.
But back to the Apple fanboy thing. Schechter was one of those people who bought an Apple Watch on the first day. He has barely taken it off since. I asked for his candid impressions, and here they are.
Store experience: My try-on experience was personal and pleasant; the team member who helped me was very knowledgeable despite it being the first day for try-ons. But there were clear challenges. Every watch face was not available, including the 42 mm Silver Aluminum Sport I was considering purchasing. The polishing cloth, while effective, felt more like the type of towel you would use to dry your hands at home than one you would use to sell a luxury timepiece. Most importantly, you don’t actually get to try on a fully functioning watch. You wear a device running a demo loop, while interacting with another watch that is integrated into a tablet.
I walked away knowing which model looked and felt best, and while I had a better understanding of the capabilities of the device, I didn’t experience what it would be like to own an Apple Watch.
The unboxing: The packaging shows some of the same struggles to reconcile Apple’s present with a potentially more luxurious future. After much hemming and hawing, I ordered 42 mm Stainless Steel Case with Black Sport Band for $599. When it arrived, I was impressed by the heft of the box. As expected, the packaging is minimal and clever. It was clear that the unboxing experience had been carefully thought out. There was one significant miss though. After removing a well-crafted white cardboard outer box, I was greeted by a plastic inner box for the watch itself. It’s been said that Apple’s newly appointed chief design officer Jony Ive was inspired by Swatch’s packaging. While this would have made perfect sense for the [lowest-end] $349–$399 Sport edition of the watch (which does indeed have a smaller and more elongated plastic box), it felt out of place with a stainless steel watch. An alternative material like leatherette would have felt more fitting for a stainless steel offering than white plastic. The current experience does not do justice to the mid-tier offerings, which start at $549 and go all the way up to $1,099.
Apple is working diligently to establish the über-luxury 18k Edition as the ultimate status symbol (if you doubt this, just check out just about every celebrity’s wrist on the planet). What they’ve yet to do is establish an experience that will encourage mid-tier and luxury watch fanatics to abandon what they are wearing now.
The hardware: Even with the entry-level strap, my watch very much feels like a luxury product. It’s comfortable, it has a nice heft, it feels substantial without being comically large, the screen is beautiful, the digital crown works exactly like you would hope, and the battery does indeed last all day long. There are opportunities for improvement, including the overall thickness and the amount of usable real estate for the screen, but for a version 1.0, Apple did an excellent job balancing form and function.
The straps are also easy to change. That is going to be important, considering the watch face is almost always blacked out to onlookers, and the strap is the user’s sole opportunity to make a statement. Apple is already making it possible for third-party companies to provide their own straps, but it might be tough with a device with such a strong baked-in aesthetic.
The software: This is a work in progress. Apple has yet to nail down the user experience. Some aspects are off to a strong start, especially the watch application. While I would love to see third-party faces, Apple gives you enough to get started and the additional features, or complications, really show the benefit of a smartwatch. Notifications (as long as you take the time to carefully curate what you receive) and glances (essentially mini applications that can be accessed by swiping up on the watch face) offer a mostly positive experience, despite some early limitations.
But the apps are the 1.0 experience at its worst. Apple has boasted that the device launched with more than 3,000 apps. A few applications, such as Uber and Seamless, show promise. But not only is the app picker awkward, nearly all the developers of those 3,000 applications had to guess what it would be like to use an Apple Watch. Many guessed wrong.
There are no native apps on the current version of the Apple Watch, which means that once an application launches, it then has to communicate with your phone to work. You often spend more time waiting for the apps than using them.
The experience: Those frustrations don’t have as big an impact as you would think. They are mostly software driven and therefore possible to change.
The device has also delivered on two additional key areas. As many a fitness wearable owner will attest, seeing how active I’ve been throughout the day encourages me to take my health more seriously. The simplicity of having three circles showing me how active I have been is a surprisingly good motivator.
It has also helped me to keep my phone in my pocket. There’s little doubt that it’s sad that I need a device to have more self-control with another device, but it turns out I do. The ability to respond to a text message without the temptation of checking my email or browsing the web afterwards is a positive. While our smartphones often have time- sensitive information, they just as often send us down a time-wasting rabbit hole.
The bottom line: When the largest company in the world decides to enter your industry, it’s important to take notice. Apple has proven time and time again that it has both the power to disrupt long-established industries and the ability to create markets.
It’s clear from the attention Apple has given the Watch at its keynotes, and the money it’s spending on advertising, it sees this new category as important. However it’s also yet to hone in on the narrative behind the watch. The iPod was 1,000 songs in your pocket. The iPhone was three devices in one: a phone, an iPod, and a portal to the web. The Watch is almost begging users to decide its true purpose. Even as someone who owns the watch and finds it useful, it’s difficult to sum up the benefits.
Categorizing the device as a watch also seems limiting. While the Apple Watch offers all the benefits of a traditional watch, it just as easily replaces wearable devices like the Fitbit.
Considering I wasn’t wearing a watch, and wasn’t in the market for one before Apple introduced this, this is a net positive for the watch industry. However, if Apple continues to find ways to build a case for mid-tier and luxury watch collectors to try the Apple Watch, and it continues to build functionality that rewards everyday use, it is possible that traditional watch collectors will not be as motivated as they once were to collect. And if Apple is able to help redefine what we expect from our watches, it will be extremely difficult for traditional watch competitors to achieve anything close.
Is the Apple Watch everything I hoped it would be and more? No. But it’s the first watch I’ve ever worn every day for a month without fail. It is the first watch that I continue to see the benefit of wearing, aside from style. It’s also the first watch where I spend more time wondering how it will get better, rather than if there is something better. It’s already become a part of my routine in a way that no other watch ever has, and Apple is just getting started.