Is the new Apple Watch Missing the Mark or Ahead of it’s Time?

My friend Pat O’dea wrote:

Asked a guy showing off his expensive new smartwatch “What do you like most about it?” He replied “You don’t realize how many times during the day you have to reach into your pocket and pull your phone out just to see what time it is, so this like, totally solves that.” Speechless.

Steve Jobs’ legendary status as a businessman and a tech pioneer didn’t die with him, but Apple is pretty far from bulletproof. No one’s talent for anticipating the wants and needs of the consumer base is infallible and the ability to cultivate a brand reputation is arguably too rare to even study or accurately speculate about.  Apple has gone through ups and downs and had some spectacular failures in the past. Since his death, everyone has pondered at least once: Can the brand progress into a new era of product development without Jobs?

Apple tenaciously conceptualized the personal computer but the real ability to stay afloat and eventually thrive depended on financial support from investors and even competitors who were simply eager to keep the market of new ideas alive with the competition that spurred the personal computer’s development in the first place. The story behind Apple is one that discusses the future of branding itself. A few years ago Apple cultivated a lifestyle. The ipod and the iphone were as American as Coca~Cola or Warner Brothers. From hardware design, to software design, to intuitive user experience, Apple made devices that people found easy to use and extremely, surprisingly useful – and they did it with confidence and subtlety.  Never before has a company proven it’s finger to be on the pulse of the market. Period.

The millions behind Apple’s multiple ad campaigns were spent to capture a market that may not be able to afford the type of products that forged the rep. Missing Steve Jobs leadership might not be the problem behind Apple repeatedly missing the mark but it’s hard to imagine him supporting a product like the Apple Watch.

The “Think different,” campaign was aimed at regular, middle class people. Apple products took existing tech and put it in a format anyone could just pick up, figure out, and use without any real instruction or coaching. Most of all, apple products were effective and useful. Despite the target audience, the products have always come with a price tag that was a tad high for the intended consumers.

Apple Watch is following only one aspect of the marketing plan in this beginning of the post-Jobs era: the pitch. They are trying to push the watch as an affordable product when it’s usefulness is taken into consideration. The problem is: it isn’t very useful.

People supported and even coveted iPods and iPhones  because of the groundbreaking and aesthetic but the accusation of them being expensive and frivolous has always plagued the company. The atmosphere Jobs cultivated put a spell on the world but the products often did live up to the hype – or at least come close. The days of Americans buying $2000 laptops and considering it a bargain are damn near over. Being able to take a unit out of the box and find a pre-programmed piece of tech that the everyman could (almost)afford and operate was apparently harder than Jobs made it seem. The days of Apple being able to brag about how useful these devices are seriously numbered.

It’s not just the watch. Apple press-released new laptops available in gold. They released videos of Christy Turlington Burns doing the things millionaires do. The Apple Watch also comes plated in 18 Karat Gold. Tim Cook quoted the starting price at $10,000.

Over the past year, various people speculated or confirmed that this jump to a new target audience was in the works. John Gruber blogs for Apple, and he predicted the highest of this new high end material would not even be affordable. Kevin Roose wrote for Fusion, saying Apple is likely to market toward the high end of the wealth inequality spectrum pointing out how wrong engineer Jony Ive was by quipping, “Apple products are for everyone.”

So the new prices are out and they are as ridiculous as expected. The new product reviews are in and the watch isn’t really doing anything that a phone can’t already pull off.  The lower end model of the Apple Watch is still $350 and if all it really offers is the differnce between a pocket-watch and a wristwatch, I think it’s safe to say: Apple fell off. There is no technological difference between the low end and high end models; the computer is the identical in functionality. The higher end model is not useful except for people who want to brag about it as a status symbol or convert their money into an asset that may not even appreciate in value. In short, it seems like a seriously bad investment.

I might be out of line by imagining what a deadman would say but gold-plated anything is not something I would have expected Jobs’ reputation to support. The other side of this debate is something like: Apple has had a long and storied history and changed it’s mission several times. There is no reason to see this as the end of Apple. It’s possible that the company is acting on economic information that has been vetted and tested extensively and knows full well that an expensive, sort of silly watch is going to push profit margins appropriately toward their goals. That doesn’t make this round of new products any less disappointing.

Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY