Apple Watch pre release review

The Apple Watch will be released on April 24 2015 and before then I wanted to lay down my thoughts regarding its potential for success.

Whilst I have no doubt that Apple Watch combines in typical Apple fashion existing technology into a refined polished end product, I remain concerned by some of the features and some of the choices in the various versions of the watch. Firstly i will be excluding the Apple Watch Edition "the gold watch", which i find mind boggling irrelevant. This leaves two choices, the Watch Sport or plain Watch. The internal technical specifications for both watches are identical, therefore the consumer must choose between the exterior specifications of aluminium vs steel, of strengthened glass vs sapphire, and the accompanying price differences. For these two version i list my concerns below;

A) IP7 waterproofing

Both versions come with IP7 waterproofing, which is a little bit surprising. You'd expect the Watch Sport to be waterproof to a much greater depth than the IP7 standard, which allows for submersion in water up to 1 meter for a duration of 30mins. Apple has never been a fan of waterproofing its phones or iPods which i found a little strange and certainly was disappointed by. This excludes triathletes.

A recent patent application by apple to spray internal electronics with water repellent films could point to Apple knowing they need to address this issue and a will within the company to do so in future versions.

B) Aluminium versus Steel, Sapphire versus Strengthened Glass

I get the impression that the Apple Sport, made from aluminium and strengthened glass was an after thought. The manufacturing issues faced with developing and sourcing the Sapphire meant that there wasn't going to be enough to go around and the cost of producing the Sapphire rose with the implosion of GT Advanced Technologies, which Apple partnered with and then backed out of to produce the Sapphire in large enough quantities.

Whilst the Watch Sport is 20g lighter than the Steel and Sapphire Watch and strengthened glass will be less shatterproof, it will be more susceptible to scratches. Sapphire on the other hand will not scratch easily but could shatter with a heavy impact. As Watches are so much more exposed than phones to potential scratches, this may be the most important aspect of the design, keeping the screen scratch free.

The costs between the versions also vary by £180 more for the Steel and Sapphire. That extra cost pushes the starting price to a point that becomes difficult for early adopters and may have forced Apple's hand in producing a cheaper sibling (aka Watch Sport).

C) The price

The prices start at £299 and can go up to £949 depending on the choice of strap. Not everybody spends this much money on a watch, so already the market may be smaller than that of the phone. Whilst many phones are subsidised by the carriers, making them affordable for a large number of people, there is no sign that the watch will have such subsidies in place, reducing further the market.

For those people who do spend that amount on a watch they would expect it to last 10 years or more. Apple is great at upgrading software on their old devices to improve functionality, and i'm sure the same will apply to the watch, but 10 years may be stretching the battery and we don't know the cost of replacing it, although we are told it will be replaceable.

D) Behind Glass, by appointment only?

The Apple Watch won't be a impulse purchase, because the stores won't let you try one without an appointment or presumably queuing for a sales assistant to let you try one on. I feel very strongly that this is a mistake. If using the device in store is such a chore, you won't get that customer strolling by and giving it a go, only to be (we hope) pleasantly surprised by how well it works. The watch must be free to pickup and try on.

In Summary

The combination of the above points may end up being a deal breaker for a large proportion of potential early adopters. If you're spending that much money on a watch you don't want it to scratch easily especially as the screen is an input device, feeling those scratches every time you use it.

Disposable income is worse than ever, how many people have much money left over once they've typically bought a new phone? Will people really have the money left over to spend on a watch? Will they skip buying the phone this year to buy the watch?

It's terribly difficult to judge these issues, without having seen and used the device. I remember feeling disappointed with the iPAD announcement until i went into a store and tried one. Suddenly it all made sense. But it may be months before i get to try on a Watch even though i live only 10mins from an Apple Store.

In the end i will for some of the above limitations to be fully tested. How scratch resistant is the strengthened glass? How good is the software? Does water get in if i go swimming? Does the heartbeat monitor work in the water? Is the Sapphire too brittle? Can i justify the cost?

I know for example it won't replace my phone as the main purchase that I make every two years because the phone and it's camera is still the most useful device that I own. Whilst that is currently my personal preference I believe that many people will be like me. The watch may be an incredibly useful device that assists our interaction with technology but, where purchasing power is limited I believe Apple will be forced to bring the price down and improve the offering, perhaps even simplifying the available versions down to one.


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