Apple Watch’s Biggest Problem

There is a problem with the Apple Watch. To be clear, it’s not a problem I have with the watch (unlike others) it’s a problem Apple has with it.

To understand what I mean, let’s start with the iPhone.

The iPhone is, arguably, the best smartphone you can buy. This is an opinion that millions and millions of people share and have expressed with lots and lots of money over the last few years. The smartphone as a broad category, after the iPhone debuted at least, is something that has altered our lives and deeply changed how we communicate with each other. You can question this conclusion, you can disagree with it, but the results speak for themselves.

Now, what about the Apple Watch?

There are wearables out there now. They’re not changing the world in the same way though. The possibility exists, but it’s not happening—the fish just aren’t biting. It’s very much 2006. The current crop of devices isn’t anything remarkable, to be sure; they’re not the sort of devices that will be remembered in three years—or maybe even one. The Apple Watch will.

In a recent article from TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino stated that the selling point of this new device is about saving time. Actually, no. I say it’s about giving back time. Subtle difference, maybe, but important nonetheless. I said a few paragraphs ago that smartphones (i.e. the iPhone) have changed society. That’s true. When is the last time you spent time with someone in the real world when at least part of that time wasn’t interrupted by a device or the familiar “ding” of a text message? If you’re anything like me, it’s probably been a while.

Digital detox is a thing now. A few years ago, it wasn’t. People are getting inundated with notifications and requests and buzzing and messages and increasingly intrusive forms of interruption. But, people keep buying the iPhones. Why? If they’re so terrible, as everyone seems to keep saying, why would we keep buying them?

Maybe because they’re the best we have right now. Maybe it’s because everything else is even more annoying and more intrusive. Remember when you had to wait around all day for a call? “Sorry, honey, I can’t go with you to the park with the kids. I’m expecting a phone call for work.” THIS USED TO BE A THING! Is that guy on the phone at his kid’s baseball game annoying? Yes. Is it distracting? Yes. Will I ever be that guy? I pray no. But, is he at least present at his kid’s game? Yes. Pre-cell phone, would he have been? Probably not.

Life doesn’t stop. As the always imitable Ferris Bueller once said, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This is the Apple Watch. If you can reduce the interaction time required of you, like the Apple Watch seems like it’s going to, then you’re in a remarkable position. People want that. It’s that wonderful position Apple “found” itself in (through careful planning and exceptional execution) in 2001, 2007 and 2010.

Except, the problem I was talking about.

It boils down to this: how do you talk about the Apple Watch’s biggest selling point, giving you back time from your devices, without alienating the very people who are buying those devices and loving them right now?

The pitch seems to boil down to “give us a few hundred dollars for a smartphone, because you need one and it’ll change your life. But, you also need to give us a few hundred dollars more so that you don’t have to mess around with that phone you just bought that we said would change your life.” This seems confusing to people on the outside and I think it’s coming across that way in Apple’s messaging. It’s also a different message than before. The iPhone was replacing your feature phone. The MacBook was replacing your desktop. The iPad was replacing your MacBook.

The Apple Watch isn’t replacing your iPhone. It’s adding more stuff on to it.

Apple talks about how many things the Apple Watch can do, they also talk about the promise the device holds after developers get their pizza-stained, Mountain Dew-drinking hands on it, but very little is spent talking about how this thing will save you give you back time from your iPhone.

The iPhone you just bought. The one you’re more than likely reading this on now.

I’m not saying it’s an impossible message to express. In fact, Apple might be the best company to express it because they’ve done similar things before. Look no further than the iPhone replacing iPod unit sales and the iPad striving to replace MacBook unit sales. I’m not saying Apple can’t do it. All I’m trying to say is that I don’t think Apple is doing a good job of expressing it right now. They seem to be shying away from this message and I think that is a mistake.

No one is going to buy it if they don’t really understand how much better it is than what they’ve already got. People understand why you buy a smartphone over a feature phone. They understand why you buy a tablet over lugging around a laptop. But, most people don’t understand why you would buy an Apple Watch (or a wearable in general).

That, to me, is the Apple Watch’s biggest problem.