Clearly the Apple Watch is going to be a thing – but will it be as successful as prior launches of the iPod, iPad and iPhone? I’m guessing not at first, but it will be the beginning of an Apple-led revolution in wearables. The company is late to the wearables party (just like it was for smart phones and MP3 players), but if it is in it for the long-haul, I think Apple can really make a difference. The first Apple watch will probably disappoint many. But if it keeps at it, I’ll bet version 3 or 4 becomes a bona fide hit that changes how we interact with the world. Here are the 8 things, in my opinion, that Apple needs to do to be successful.
Battery Life: The rumors I’ve read on battery life are depressing. For a truly useful wearable to work, it needs to last for a week or more, not less than a day. Wearable technology needs to be unconsciously portable, not something you have to think about all the time. Until Apple solves the battery life – or power consumption – issues, the watch won’t be mainstream.
Charging: This is a corollary, but the watch needs to be both quick-chargeable and wirelessly chargeable as well. On the speed side, I’ve been very impressed with the VOOC quick-charge technology in Oppo’s latest phones. In a half hour my phone charges from almost dead to 70%. That sort of rapid charging is essential for this category. In addition, the watch needs to support wireless charging, so you can plop the watch down and get it juiced up without wires. I’d love to see Apple’s watch support Ikea’s upcoming line of furniture with built in wireless charging.
Always On: A wearable watch needs to be a watch first. That means no shutting off the display to save power. It has to include a persistent digital of faux-analog time display. If I have to do a little dance to actually tell what time it is, then why am I wearing a watch in the first place – I mean unless I’m a dancer? If this is truly a watch, then it must be better than the timepieces it aims to replace on every level. Yes, persistent screens could draw down the battery, but what about using some sort of eInk? Then you’d only need to refresh the screen 60 times an hour.
Thin: Sure, some folks love those big, bulky wrist bling things that proclaim, “I’m rich”, and “I’m overcompensating”. But for everyone else, we’d like our wearables to essentially disappear on our skin. The less bulky the better. But that’s more of a long-term product requirement. At first the Apple Watch should be as bulky and ostentatious as possible, because early-adopters will be more interested in impressing other people with their ability to “Think Different”. But once the Apple Corps (you know them, they tithe 10% of their disposable income to Infinity Loop), has bought in, it’ll be time to build for the rest of us. And that means technology that essentially disappears until we need it.
Compatibility: From what I’ve heard, Apple’s watch will just work with iPhones. That might be a good strategy for the first year, but sooner or later, if they want it to be a success, they’ll have to work with Android phones as well – and Blackberrys and Windows phones too. Apple should know this. The iPod would have failed if it couldn’t sync up a Windows PC running iTunes, just as the iPhone needed to sync up with Exchange email servers and other non-Apple devices. This is particularly important for international sales, as Android and its variants dominate in a variety of countries outside the US.
Ubiquitous: Just as the Apple Watch needs to support more than the iPhone, the built-in features need to support a variety of other systems as well. Apple may hope that Apple Pay becomes the dominant form of mobile payment, but there are others out there working just as hard to make their systems a success. Now with Samsung buying LoopPay, and Google continuing to invest in its Wallet, there will be a variety of payment schemes available for some time to come. To be truly “magical”, Apple Watch needs to work with all of them seamlessly. Similarly it needs to support a variety of other platforms and apps – not built by Apple – to add value to people’s lives.
Whimsical: Oh, and don’t forget humor and whimsy. The Apple Watch needs to be able to support fun stuff as well, including silly and sophomoric humor. For example, a friend of mine founded the GIF keyboard company Riffsy, and now that IOS8 is extensible they are doing some super-fun things with messaging. The Apple Watch needs to support fun products in the same tone as these, along with different skins, colors and other personalization options. Heck, if I want my Apple Watch to promote my love for the San Jose Sharks – particularly when I go to one of their games – why shouldn’t I? It’s my body, let me adorn it my way! Don’t think you know what’s best for us, and lock us into the “Apple Way”.
Unbreakable: Finally, this watch better be rugged. It’s all well and good to build forced obsolescence (i.e., fragile screens that crack when you drop them) into the iPhone. But my watch takes a much bigger pounding than my phone – and so far I’ve yet to break one. The Apple Watch had better be almost bulletproof – and nearly water proof too. Because if I have to worry about whether I’m going to ruin my $400 jewelry if I get caught in the rain – or bust it by banging it into a wall – I’ll probably just leave it at home. And if we’re not wearing it, we won’t buy another one – nor will our friends.
I really hope Apple gets it right, because it’ll propel the entire wearables market into a new level of adoption and innovation. But if they don’t get these eight things right over the next 2-3 years, an Apple failure could set the whole shebang back to 1984.