iWatch has taken a heck of a lot of criticism for a product that no one has seen yet, and may not even exist.
Apple hasn’t even confirmed that it plans to build an iWatch or other wearable computing device – it has trademarked the iWatch term in some countries, but often does that on projects that never see the light of day – but that hasn’t stopped tech pundits from sticking the boot in.
Criticising a product that you haven’t tried out, seen, or even know exists seems almost beyond parody, but no less an authority than the
Washington Post has waded into the storm of opinion and speculation with its thoughts on why the iWatch “may be the most-hyped, least-desired product ever”. We should be grateful for the word ‘may’, at least.
We don’t mean to single the WP out here, since everyone is doing it. And at least that paper is focusing on media hype and customer demand for the product, two things that can reasonably be discussed pre-launch (and pre-product confirmation). But that doesn’t excuse the palpable sense in these articles that Apple is to blame for the imagined failure of a product and corporate strategy that no one yet knows are ever going to happen.
As an antidote to what we feel is unwarranted criticism of an unseen product, we thought we’d put together a list of what we can say fairly confidently about the iWatch.
Concept illustration of the iWatch, which we haven’t seen yet, and may not even exist
Who owns the iWatch trademark in the UK? |
Apple faces legal battle over iWatch trademark in US]
1. iWatch is unlikely to repeat the failures of existing smartwatches
Wearable computing is in its infancy, and the products out there right now are imperfect. But why do we assume iWatch wouldn’t even try to improve on the status quo?
As evidence of the lack of legs in the wearable computing ‘fad’, the WP quotes Christopher Mims’
roundup of smartwatches, which he pans pretty roundly: bad battery life, poor design, an unsatisfactory user experience all-round. Fair enough, but isn’t that a point in Apple’s favour?
The smartwatch market is a classic Apple target. Like MP3 players before the iPod, phones before the iPhone and even the small number of tablet computers before the iPad, smart watches are an interesting but unfulfilled category crying out for someone to create the definitive product. A terrible design aesthetic? Have you met Sir Jony Ive?
As many have pointed out, Apple rarely innovates from a totally blank slate. It usually takes something that it doesn’t think is as good as it should be (the iPhone, we are told, started life with a group of Apple execs sitting around and complaining about their mobiles), and makes it much, much better. So the idea that the poor quality of existing smartwatches is somehow a problem for Apple is bizarre.
2. Just because you can’t imagine wanting an iWatch now, that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be demand
The WP calls iWatch the least desired product ever.
“The iWatch could very well be little more than a ‘cheaper iPhone’ or a ‘really cheap iPad’,” it argues. “The iWatch, then, would not be a watch – that’s the red herring – it would be a smaller, cheaper, less capable iPhone, and who wants that?”
For a start, it seems oddly self-contradictory to call the iWatch simultaneously overhyped and unwanted. The buzz around the iWatch is phenomenal, the sort of customer interest most products would kill for. And the illustrative example WP uses near the start of its article – the
Pebble smartwatch, which raised $10m on Kickstarter – shows that plenty of people are more than ready to throw their money at the concept.
But beyond this, a glance at history shows us that Apple doesn’t limit itself to the product launches people are asking for. Steve Jobs famously said: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
At the moment the smartwatch is a niche tech novelty, just like tablet computers before 2010. Once we’ve seen Apple’s take on the idea (which, bearing in mind point 1, could be entirely unlike anything we’ve seen before), heard the keynote speech and watched the advert, all that is likely to change.
Let’s face it, the iWatch will probably sell a couple of units if Apple launches it.
The iPad 1, also known briefly as ‘the product nobody needs and won’t sell well’
3. None of the iWatch ‘hype’ is Apple’s fault
This one is self-explanatory, I hope, but needs to be said. Apple has never announced an iWatch, never said that it plans to create a smartwatch, and beyond its trademarking of the iWatch term has played no part in the media and general public’s obsessive interest in the concept.
Some pundits for some reason seem irritated by the degree of ‘hype’ surrounding the iWatch, which is sort of reasonable, but this manifests itself in anger at Apple: ‘I think the iWatch is going to be rubbish, and nowhere near as good as everyone says it will be’ or even ‘Apple has let me down’.
A big theme of this year’s Apple-related analysis has been the idea that the company
needs to ship something new – it’s been a fair while since the iPad mini came out, after all, and we haven’t heard anything concrete about the
next iPad or iPhone.
But this is far more of a problem for us here in the media than for Apple the corporation, which continues to sell lots and lots of its existing product line-up. Apple pundits want something new to talk about. Apple customers don’t mind half so much – they’ve still got their iPads and iPhones to use and enjoy, and are looking forward to
iOS 7, and the
hardware launches we heard about at WWDC.
The idea seems to be that Apple is some exhausted boxer on his last legs, looking for one big punch to get it back in the game. But it’s not. It’s financially healthy, making
inroads into new markets and collecting enormous revenues from software and media sales to its existing customers.
iWatch is an interesting idea, and we’d love to see one. After all, the smartwatch market is exactly the sort of young, flawed market that Apple has a strong record in. But it’s been talked up until we all look at it as a far more important project than it actually is. Who knows, maybe there is no iWatch. And if that’s the case, we’ll have no one to blame for our disappointment but ourselves.
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