Douglas Adams 1: Apple Watch 0 (game in progress)

By Paul Dempsey |  No Comments  |  Posted: March 10, 2015
Topics/Categories: Blog Topics, Commentary, General  |  Tags: , , , ,  | Organizations:

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 


I was warned. So were you. But we still watched the launch of the Apple Watch hoping this most innovative of technology integrators would persuasively kick-start the wearables market – and by extension give us a sense of the real commercial potential in the Internet of Things. We could do with the business.

I came away very disappointed. As the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones Tweeted: “I’d be keener on Apple Watch if I hadn’t tried Android watches that do much the same – and which I found useless.”

Maybe as a techie, I was also put off by the presentation style. Too much fashion ‘frow’ Zoolander wibble. I’ve had a few things to say about that elsewhere (and tell me I’m wrong but as hard as I scrutinised the webcast neither CEO Tim Cook nor Technology VP Kevin Lynch seemed to be actually wearing the Apple Watch on stage).

But there are important technology issues also. The S1 system-in-package is undoubtedly a very cunning piece of design, integrating Watch’s functionality in a necessarily tiny footprint.

We know that it is a clever hybrid edge/fog device. Much of the heavy-loading is shifted to the iPhone (5 and above) with which it must be paired, but the S1 itself then houses apps to operate edge IoT functions such as home control systems. It also has NFC, making it a powerful addition to the Apple Pay arsenal – and helping augment a second wave of NFC deployment and design.

What brought me up short was the mere 18-hour battery life.

Apple Watch gets time out

Apple says this is its most personal device ever. During your waking hours, Apple Watch is a constant companion monitoring health and fitness, alerting you to appointments, flashing up messages and email, and allowing you to answer phone calls like Dick Tracy. It’s also something of a poster child for the latest Bluetooth spec and its low power advantages.

But what if you forget to charge it? We’re all human.

Well, that’s a day of functionality lost – particularly at the healthcare/fitness level, since the magnetic battery covers the heart monitor and other sensors on the Watch’s reverse. This configuration also rules out the use of a back-up battery – how do you fit the charger on your wrist as well?

Then, if the Apple Watch needs to charge during your 40 winks, it cannot realistically perform overnight healthcare tasks like sleep monitoring (on a personal note, as an overweight middle-aged guy who’s just been shown a yellow card over his susceptibility to conditions like sleep apnea, that would have been a pretty compelling reason to invest in a Watch – the doc’s got me back in the gym anyway but…).

At the same time, we need to acknowledge a power consumption issue with smartwatches around the display. Generally users want it to be on all the time – it’s one of the reasons why LCD walloped LED back when, with some fine advice, Douglas Adams bastinadoed an earlier generation of tat. You can do ‘wake-up’ when the wrist shakes, but you don’t always do that so you can see the time (and don’t get crude, I was thinking more about picking up a cup of coffee). Still this does pose a battery-life challenge.

Smartwatches ain’t easy.

And as of today, nothing’s changed.

What’s really in the Apple Watch?

The excellent diggers at places like Chipworks and Anandtech will have the S1 in the lab as soon as the Watch launches next month, but for now an ever-secretive Apple is being guarded about the SIP’s specs.

However, given the company itself has emphasized ‘personal’, we have to mark this as a silicon shortfall. The Apple Watch is not a killer device for wearables or the IoT.

That said, it is a first-generation product, for Apple at any rate. Look at the terrific work the company’s engineers have also just done in shrinking the MacBook’s motherboard by two-thirds and using the extra real estate to layer in terraced batteries. They have created an all-day, super-lightweight laptop. It’s just 2lb (0.9kg). Kudos chaps (and, I hope, chapesses). In that context, my guess is the Watch is still at WeightWatchers – like me, it certainly should be.

So, let’s give it a year before we really get antsy on wearables… unless, obviously, another innovator has other ideas. But for now, Cupertino doesn’t have me. As our business looks for that next growth driver, I genuinely wish it did.

One more thing…

The Watch is hardly the first Apple product to launch with a price-point that looks mighty high (and remember that the Lisa WP was, well, Steve’s baby). But the Watch is a peripheral after all – and, at its entry level of $349 to a motherphone that typically costs much less, a hefty one. The real price point here is surely below $200.

Meanwhile, as for these blinged-up $10k+ special editions. Look, Tim, Jony, Phil and Angela, I’m an inconsequential dissenter, yet I’ve converted many of my family and friends to Apple on the basis that the premium you already charge is not just about great industrial design, but also superb technology integration and reliability that, over the lifetime of whatever product you buy, more than repays the extra dosh. You are a mass market play – 700m iPhones and all that.

At the time of the famous ‘Think Different’ campaign, one wag suggested that an equally powerful slogan for Apple could be, ‘Just F***ing Works, Everytime’.

Brand values, you know. Mess with them at your peril. It matters that you allow John and Jane Q to have as cool a product as any princeling frittering away daddy’s hard earned pile. Apple’s brilliance is inherently democratic.

Mind you, there’s always plenty of room on the B Ark. Maybe that’s the plan – a free ticket with every premium wriststrap.

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