10
Mar 15

Waking from an Apple Watch hangover

We don’t like to make hot-headed remarks about Apple new-product events around these parts. Better to let things sink in for a while.

Okay, time’s up.

A few random comments about yesterday’s Apple Watch and MacBook event.

The broadcast
Glitch-free and a pleasure to watch. With the accompanying tweet-cast, Apple has become quite spiffy with these things. My only issue with it was…

The tweets
I couldn’t help but wince while reading some of the pre-event tweets. Steve Jobs hated any writing that sounded like marketing-speak, but such inhibitions seemed to have melted way here. It was a mix of trying to be cool (Getting psyched backstage listening to I Lived by @OneRepublic), trying to be clever (Please make sure your seat is in an upright position. It’s almost time for takeoff.) and sounding like an ad (People grab their seats before the keynote grabs their attention).

Craftsmanship
Watching this event, I was reminded of why I have such respect for Apple. The company revels in the details of materials and craftsmanship, and its inventiveness is ever-present in product engineering. Rarely would you get such a feeling from an event put on by Apple’s competitors.

ResearchKit
Don’t get me wrong — I love that Apple does things like this. It’s uplifting, caring and important. But at an Apple event, impact and flow are every bit as important. And at this point, the flow stopped flowing. Apple devoted a full thirteen minutes to ResearchKit. At the start, a quick cut to the audience caught a man mid-yawn. I knew just how he felt.

MacBook confusion
I love many things about the new MacBook, but I do think Apple prioritized marketing over simplicity in the way it’s presented in the product lineup. The “reinvention of the laptop” concept required it to become a third category of laptop, tucked between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. However, the new MacBook is actually thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air, whose raison d’être is to be the thinnest and lightest. It would probably have made more sense to introduce the new MacBook as the 12-inch MacBook Air with Retina display — but then it would be the only one with a single port, which might cause a different kind of confusion. There will be no surprise when the lineup is simplified in the next year or so.

The one-port dilemma
This is a thorny one. If the norm in laptops had been a single port requiring dongles to plug in more than one thing at a time, and Apple introduced a computer that gave us two ports instead of one, we’d be hailing Apple as the conquering hero. Instead, the opposite has happened. A great many users plug in more than one thing at a time (especially when one of those things is power), and the new MacBook forces you to buy a $79 dongle to do what was previously so drop-dead simple. If you alternately deal with VGA and digital video, as many presenters do, you’ll be double-dongling. In a sense, this is reminiscent of Apple eliminating the floppy drive in the original iMac. With the single port, Apple is clearly aiming us toward the wireless future, even if it won’t get here for a while. If that doesn’t work for you, you still have two damn good alternatives. They’re called MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

Name recycling
It’s not every day that Apple retires a product name and then brings it back years later. MacBook used to be the entry-level laptop (which was a renamed iBook). Now it’s back, with a whole new meaning.

Jony Ive videos
As I said after the last Apple event, the product videos work much better when Jony Ive is reduced to a voiceover. The personality of the video is still unmistakably Jony, but when he’s not on camera, it’s easier for the editors to assemble a perfect read. Plus it eliminates the way-overused and deservedly-parodied visual style of previous years’ videos.

Apple Watch power surge
From a pre-event rumor of 2.5 to 4 hours of battery life, we now have a reality of 17-hour battery life — a number that combines the different ways one would typically use the Watch over the course of a day. True, you can get many times more than that out of a Pebble. But that comes with a fraction of the functionality. Your choice.

Apple Watch ad
Advertising a brand-new category is very different than coming up with a new ad for iPad, for example. At this point, Apple needs to show the world what an Apple Watch is, just as it did with the initial iPhone ads. The Apple Watch ad does an excellent job of showing the extraordinary variety of form and function. The ad has a lot of energy, capturing both fashion and technology. If this isn’t enough to get you interested, you’re not an Apple Watch customer. And that’s okay.

A request
Can we please stop using the name iSight now? It wasn’t in the presentation, but it’s there on the Apple Watch web pages. (Apple Watch can be a viewfinder for the iSight camera on your iPhone.) Ever since the bulky, inelegant external iSight camera was retired eons ago in favor of built-in technology, the name has been superfluous. Here’s my big idea. Let’s call it … “Camera.”

Price anguish
I’m still amazed that there are people out there bashing Apple for creating a level of watch that costs $10,000 to $17,000. As long as there are affordable Apple Watches, offering a super-luxury model is a non-issue. Mercedes will sell you a car for $30,000, but they’ll also sell you one for over $130,000.

The happy ending
Nothing is certain in this world, but it would be a shocker if Apple Watch was not a hit. Apple has created a range of fashion choices upon a rich platform that’s already attracted thousands of developers. The device is on track to become the best selling smartwatch in history in its first weekend of availability. And, like the original iPhone and iPad, it will only get sleeker and more powerful. Good times ahead.

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  • Doug Trace

    Re: Watch

    The price ranges from $350 to over $10,000. That’s fine. They feel they’ve got the goods and maybe they do. I’ve never held/used one, so I can’t say. Bottom line though, Apple is billing this as “the most personal item they’ve ever created” and I buy that line. However, the model that I ‘prefer’ (Black stainless steel and black link band) is over $1,000.

    Anything less than the one I prefer and I’m just settling. I don’t mind paying a premium price for a premium product, but I don’t like to settle. Watch, as far as I can tell, has no upgrade path. This means you’re dropping cash for a watch that will be obsolete in a few years and there’s no chance of handing it down to a loved one. This fact alone takes it out of the running with major watch manufacturers.

    That is the real problem for me. Watch has a lot going for it, but in my estimation Apple is precariously close to alienating a large swath of Apple-ites, myself included. Not a huge deal in the short term, but folks like me are default Apple salespeople on the streets. I routinely recommend Apple to most people that ask. Not this time.

  • SSpindler

    The naming convention for the new laptop is what really got me. In the past, the name MacBook was reserved for the low end Mac portable. Now, it’s somewhere in the middle. Like you said, eventually the categories will change and we may be left with just MacBook and MacBook Pro again, but for now, it seems to lack simplicity.

  • dr.dumb

    Apple’s problem with Macbook is that it is a 4.5 Watt processor
    so you get equivalent to ipad performance.
    but they want to pay premium for retina when they didn’t charge
    premium for retina ipad.

    So those who are waiting for 15 Watt Air to have retina are
    waiting till november at the latest or next January when Skylake comes.

    Macbook Pro 13 got updated but Again Apple didn’t update the display
    to use current tech. and the retina premium stayed where it was
    three years ago.
    and Apple won’t reduce the price unless Microsoft comes with another model of Surface.

  • Gary Deezy

    “The one-port dilemma” — I don’t mind that Apple chose to wind it down to one port. But, they know we are going to need USB ports for sure, and maybe Ethernet, DVI/HDMI, and Thunderbolt. Wish they would stop nickle-and-diming me on these $79 accessories just to have a useable system. Point: please include the basic necessary adaptors (I think at $1299, they can afford to do so)!

  • Gary Deezy

    “Apple Watch can be a viewfinder for the iSight camera on your iPhone.” — get rid of iSight (the name), add remote viewfinder and remote shutter, and its suddenly cool!

  • I find it insane that the dongle is $79 and yet the Apple TV is $69. There’s a real disconnect in pricing here. $79 is excessive for such a vital accessory that should have come included.

  • synthmeister

    If they could have at least put a USB-C port on each side of the laptop.

    And poor Thunderbolt, we hardly knew ye.

  • ksegall

    Perfect solution.

  • ksegall

    This doesn’t bother me as much as it does you. I couldn’t bear to have an iPhone more than two years old, and I will likely feel that way about the watch. If you want to stay current, well … you have to stay current. That’s why it pays to own AAPL. Every time you make another purchase, you drive up the stock price :)

  • krabbie

    Apple knows who has been naughty or nice. You naughty lot will use a Air or a Pro. You nice bunch will get a easy, wireless, brilliant laptop to use as you would a foldable iPad. Y’all know that wireless is the future. Buckle Up it Will be a bumpy road. Like the last Apple bumpy road…optical drives and readers/burners. POOF! CD’s Poof, etc. POOOOF

  • “…..we now have a reality of 17-hour battery life” – didn’t Tim say 18 hours?

    iSight camera indicates the back-side camera. FaceTime camera indicates the front-facing camera. So viewfinder term refers to back-side camera (iSight camera).

  • ksegall

    Right you are on the 18 hours! How dare I subtract an hour from a battery that needs every hour it can get.

    As for iSight … I doubt that anyone on earth gets (or cares) that each camera is referenced with a different name. My point is just that Apple needs not refer to iPhone’s camera as an iSight camera. Doesn’t add anything, and I can’t imagine that anyone would play that name back if quizzed.

  • I looked at the tech specs for iPhone. There is no mention of FaceTime camera..just iSight camera. Interesting. For MacBook, tech specs say “FaceTime camera.” Again, interesting.

    I am now leaning toward your suggestion to drop iSight camera for iPhone. Some people probably think there is only one camera in iPhone and that it just flips around for FaceTime calls. :)

  • Actually the ResearchKit part of the event was really exciting! 13 minutes flew and I had tears in my eyes near the end. Apple making it easy for the masses to participate and for researchers to accumulate data digitally is a really big deal for humanity. It is a major value proposition that sets the AW way over competitors and a far more compelling reason to buy over most of the features and apps. I would be happy to be a lab rat for important research.

    The yawning guy should have been edited out. Really dumb because a lot of people still think that yawning = bored. His brain was on overload and at least some research indicates that yawning cools the brain.

  • Gary Deezy

    Agreed. I know upgrade plans are expensive for hardware companies, but I think Apple could create some excitement and some cyclical upgrades if they offered this on day one:

    “Buy any Apple watch, and if you trade it in for the next model up within 24 months, we’ll credit you with 100% of its original retail value toward the next Watch purchase.”

    So if you get someone to move from a $350 model to a $1000 then to a $10000 model later, there is enough margin to cover the cost of the trade-in, and you create your own market for refurbished older models.

  • rfasoldt

    MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro: what could be simpler that that? It’s about capability, not weight. But weight works as well.

  • SSpindler

    No, actually it’s about price. MacBook was once the least expensive, least capable computer. This new version costs more than an air but isn’t as capable.

  • Mother Goose

    Buy a MacBook pro instead and quit whining that every product isn’t built to suit your personal needs. Very selfish of you, and mother goose says selfishness is not a virtue.

  • Gary Deezy

    And desire for excess profit margin is a virtue? Your goose should be cooked.

  • Adrian Fuhrer

    Since I am Swiss, I might be biased on this, but here’s my thoughts:
    If I think about buying a timepiece with a pricetag north of $10’000 (and this is what a good Swiss watch will cost you), it’s not about just buying something for myself. It is a piece of precise work that will last for decades to come, that can be handed down to children and grandchildren. It’s about starting a tradition.
    If I think about the Apple Watch Edition, I can’t see this. It will be obsolete in 5 years, maybe 10. Swiss Watches are expensive, but they last 50 years. How can one afford to pay the same price for somethig that lasts 5?

  • ksegall

    Well … the answer is that there are an awful lot of people in this world who have money to burn, and would gladly pay that price simply because they think it’s worth it.

    Honestly, I think any concern about the price of the Apple Watch Edition is just a distraction. The fact that there is an expensive model has nothing to do with the fact that there are two affordable models that will sell tens of millions.

    Far more important is whether the concept of the Watch is seductive and satisfying enough to turn it into yet another Apple hit. Given the level of interest in it so far, and the reviews from those who’ve tried it, I’d be very, very surprised if it didn’t meet and then exceed expectations.

  • Art S.

    The Apple brand feels a little more detached from me now… before, at every company event, I had the feeling they were talking to me – the people, the common folk, the consumer market.

    Now I’m not sure. Having to check every time whether they’re talking to the people or the Apple Watch Edition market… makes it less simple, to use your term. Thats assuming – which I am – that this won’t be the first and only entry into luxury.

    It makes perfect sense. Apple can, so Apple does. Since it will definitely be bought by set market. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. If I buy something from a high end brand in that price segment, its because I saved money or got a loan – I definitely do not assume they’re talking to ME when they introduce a new product – they are talking to THEIR market.

  • ksegall

    You may be overanalyzing a bit. I don’t think Apple has ever talked to “the common folk.” They talk to those who appreciate quality, design and simplicity, and are willing to pay the premium for that.

    I’d be surprised if Apple did any serious marketing for the Edition model, other than to include it in the overall lineup. It’s available for those who want and can afford it, but the marketing will be aimed at the mainstream Apple users who will buy the more affordable models by the millions.

    Remember, all we’ve seen so far is an Apple unveiling event. That’s for a tiny sliver of the market — the press, analysts and Apple watchers. The marketing has barely begun. When it starts, I don’t think there will be any confusion about who they’re talking to.

  • Art S.

    You’re right, Apple talked to the people that appreciate the difference between say a Mac and a Windows laptop. And me as a Designer, I often had to justify my purchases because they were based on looks. Which explains my strong devotion to Apple. But besides that: Apple is at the top of my ‘list’ when it comes to a brand that has personality, that can be trusted, that has values. Thats why I am definitely overanalyzing – I want to learn from every success and misstep that they take.

    But let me put it this way: until now, they never excluded the common folk. You want an iPhone? Heres the price, you can join. Some may not be able to afford it, but it is generally, by definition of the common folk (which can vary, obviously, but I think we mean about the same thing) affordable, even if it is with boundaries depending on the device: the only exception being professional devices – like the Mac Pro. They definitely didn’t talk to the common folk about those devices – but the thing that separates the common folk from the Mac Pro is not the price per se – its the lack of need for it. If you still want it (like I do), you can get it in some ways (as I mentioned, a loan or saving money) and you’ll enjoy the benefits.

    The difference is, in this case, the separation happens on the basis of compute power, and thus need or profession – not status.

    I think what I am trying to say is: if a company goes more and more into the luxury segment, I don’t feel like a valuable customer to them. I feel like some demographic that buys this and that, but never the really expensive stuff.

    I’m sure Apple will continue to sell to their loyal customers, and the common folk that they pull into their eco system, also the professionals, the creatives… and at this point in time and the near future, the Edition market as well. What I worry about, is the brand. Again, I think Apple is extraordinary and unique. I don’t know which other company is like this. But maybe I just don’t see them, because I am not the customer that other luxury brands are trying to reach.