Is Apple’s new watch too clever for its own good?
Apple has spent a lot of time (and money) strategically rebranding itself as a luxury fashion house ahead of the launch of its first wearable this month. We’ve seen a 12-page spread on the Apple Watch within the pages of Vogue, a considerable retail store makeover to accommodate higher ticket items, and an exhaustive 10,000-plus word profile in The New Yorker of its senior vice president of design, Jonathan Ive, in which he waxes philosophical from the backseat of his Bentley Mulsanne, no less. Funny then, that for a product that’s being positioned so vehemently as a fashion accessory – with its astronomical price tag and rose gold finish on the highest-end model – the Apple Watch still comes across as a wrist-strapped inbox.
This was evident none more so than at last month’s press conference, where we learnt (not unexpectedly) that the device is functionally useless when not paired with an iPhone. The more pressing issue being that once you do pair it, it can essentially only do iPhone things, relegating it far more to the realm of expensive smartphone accessory than the fashion revolution it’s being touted as. Granted, this isn’t a problem exclusive to Apple – Android Wear devices have been struggling to find their killer app that will send sales figures skyrocketing. But none of the Google-engine smart watches have placed their bets so squarely in the camp of the Omegas and Tissots of this world as Apple have.
Fashion is first about grabbing attention, and foremost about holding it – fixing a moment in time as we reflect on the shape and colour of an article of clothing or accessory. A perpetually buzzing stream of your Twitter mentions is the polar opposite of this, no matter how stylish that slab of sapphire glass looks on your wrist. And therein lies the fundamental problem. The Apple Watch needs to be less hectic; something more akin to an object of art and less of a tiny, pestering computer.
Juxtapose that with the announcement of a new 12in Macbook at the same event. It was a gorgeously designed netbook competitor on which little time was wasted explaining what it is or does. Apple didn’t need to. You simply take one look at its edge-to-edge keyboard and premium display and you instinctively want one. The obligatory hyperbole-filled promo videos focused on its look and feel, and like all good fashion accessories, when you see one in the wild tucked under someone’s arm, it will command your attention. This level of lust is what Apple was clearly striving for with its timepiece, but stumbled out of the gate amid a quagmire of notifications and fitness tracking stats. Of course, we won’t know for sure if the move will pay off until the sales figures start coming in, but it certainly is telling that Cupertino is positioning its first fashion accessory as a computer, while its latest computer has all the hallmarks of a highly desirable fashion accessory.