It looks like it's time to start the iWatch Death Knell Counter. I'm kidding, mostly, but a headline at TheStreet.com caught my attention today that specifically stated that the "Apple's Smartwatch Will Probably Fail." Oftentimes such articles will fail to live up to their clickbait titles, but that's what I love about Rocco Pendola—the author of the article. He never pulls his punches, not even when he's entirely wrong and will live to admit it*.
It's Hard to See the Future with a Blindfold
Citing legendary designer Hartmut Esslinger, who called smartwatches a gimmick, Mr. Pendola wrote:
A gimmick. That pretty much jibes with what I have been saying about the notion of a smartwatch market. Where did this market come from? Who created it? Is there so much consumer demand for wearables that Apple needs to follow a gaggle of private companies and posers such as Samsung into this phantom sector?
There's more in the full article, but I wanted to focus on the fundamental fallacies of this sort of outlook. The first is the idea that Apple is following Samsung. Puhlease! Samsung has released a couple of hamfisted cracks at smartwatches, but it did so in a desperate attempt to beat Apple to market.
Samsung is following Apple, not the other way around. The difference between the two companies is that Apple is capable of waiting until it can do a product right, while Samsung's approach is to vomit products all over the market in hopes that one of them sticks.
The second and more important issue is one shouldn't start from the premise that Apple will be introducing a product similar to others on the market.
Every Apple doubter does this when Apple releases or is rumored to be releasing a new product. We saw it with iPod, the iTunes Store, iPhone, the App Store, iPad, and yet every single time we see that Apple has disrupted the market by approaching a problem with a new solution.
Apple does so by rethinking pain points and by ensuring that it controls multiple components (physical and software) that give it a head start on the competition. This has happened every time, and yet we still have people predicting failure before they've even seen what Apple is planning. It's almost to the point where we're running up against Einstein's take on insanity.
The best and most recent issue is the iPad, a product designed to address the market competitors were addressing with netbooks. In case you don't remember what a netbook is, it was a species of device killed off by the iPad within a year of its release. But headlines predicting its failure and pointlessness were legion.
So, yes, smartwatches are so far a niche, at best—or a bust, at worst—but assuming that Apple is going to release another me-too smartwatch is to deny 14 years of Apple's approach to disruptive innovation. It's silly.
A far more reasonable interpretation of Apple's iWatch rumors is that Apple has identified a market opportunity and several pain points associated with that opportunity. Furthermore, Apple has figured out how to solve those pain points and has a lock on multiple components. When Apple has done this in the past, it has disrupted existing markets. I have no doubt Apple will do so again.
Don't think of the iWatch as a smartwatch. Despite all of the medical investments Apple has made, I wouldn't even think of it just as a medical monitoring device. Until we see it, we frankly don't know what Apple has in mind, and predicting failure on something you don't understand is a fool's errand.
* Rocco is always quick to acknowledge when he's proven wrong, and I respect him even when I disagree with him. Also, he's often right.
Image made with help from shutterstock.