The Foolishness of Predicting ‘Apple’s Smartwatch Will Probably Fail’

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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*.

The Apple Crystal Ball

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.

Me too?

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.

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Comments

ilene Hoffman

Doesn’t matter if he’s right or wrong. What matters are clicks and you just helped promote his clickability; sent new readers to his site and possibly yours too. Content is a second-class citizen on this Internet.

skipaq

The promise of wearable tech is not just the ability to monitor data points with sensors. The potential is staggering when you begin to consider what can be done with the data. The commercial possibilities haven’t even been realized yet. Consider the invention of the first mechanical timepiece. It made traveling the open oceans possible. How many commercial opportunities did that open?

Apple isn’t simply interested in telling you when you have broken a sweat. Any company that sells wearable tech with that as the sole or primary goal has got its’ head buried in the sand. That is why partnering with health, fitness, medical companies and others is important. We saw plenty of that during the last developers conference.

That will be just the beginning of what will be done with this type of technology. It is going to come and I am hopeful that Apple will be out front.

Blissmonkey

Ilene, I like your comment but if authors can’t refer to one another, particularly when they think that they’re wrong, then how does one reference a current example of a current author doing the thing you’re criticizing them for, without, you know, referencing them?

So, while it’s a bit of a conundrum, there’s little that can be done about it.

For the record, I happen to think this—and the article referenced—are a bit click-baity.
One talks about something they know little about (the iWatch) while the other criticizes them for doing so (which is pretty obvious).

But, this is the world of tech and the demand for new reading material is high, for better or worse.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

And you guys are talking about smart watches! I wrote an award-winning watch face, a graphic advent calendar, for the WIMM One, the first of the smart watches to make it into limited production.

We’ve known for awhile that these things need all sorts of glance-able information, and they need to exude style both in the hardware, and what shows on screen. For the latter, they need super low power consumption and a lot of battery. Apple seems to be adding data gathering to the mix. Samsung had a camera. I wouldn’t call their’s a gimmick, but definitely a toy. Will be interesting to finally see the Android Wear stuff this week. And finally, when Apple enters the fray, how it will augment the all-Apple experience, since that seems to be what they’re about now.

(A few minutes ago, I discovered that Bryan and Rocco, two of my favorite follows on Twitter, were politely arguing the point on my timeline. A very small world.)

John Martellaro

Brad: “...all sorts of glance-able information.”  Just what I have been thinking. No need to replace a smartphone display.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John: Walking around with an admittedly rudimentary device for the better part of a year before the whole WIMM mess came undone, I’d say the biggest benefit was being able to read a text or see an incoming call without having to take my phone out of my pocket. On Android, I’m also a BIG FAN of SMS Reader, which announces phone calls and reads incoming texts. Problem there is they get read to everyone around you -OR- you wear some ear jewelry. My ideal setup was SMS Reader in the car, WIMM watch for walking around.

The WIMM was a 1-inch square 160 x 160 pixel device, transflexive display, meaning it was full color when “on” for a few seconds at a time, front-lit by ambient light greyscale in low power mode otherwise. Not enough resolution for more than 1 or 2 discreet pieces of info at a time. Samsung’s current stuff is a little better on that front. Android Wear, with arbitrarily shaped faces and sizes, and apparently always “on” color, should be amazing.

People will eat these up if they’re stylish and vendors can communicate why glance-ability is important. Samsung’s effort has been off the mark so far.

mrmwebmax

+

People will eat these up if they’re stylish and vendors can communicate why glance-ability is important. Samsung’s effort has been off the mark so far.

The “stylish” part, I think, will be the main challenge to smart watch (or whatever it ends up being called) acceptance.

At my day job today, where I work as a webmaster and am part of a huge web project, we had top execs, our outside design firm, and our CEO in a wireframe meeting discussing a new site. On the conference room table, there was a Dell laptop, two Mac laptops (one an Air), our CEO’s ever-present iPad…and nothing but analog, mechanical watches on any wrist that still wears a watch.

Watches are jewelry first, timekeeping second. They are status symbols, mechanical marvels with multiple dials and jeweled movements. They are gold and platinum and rose gold, and that they tell time accurately to 1/1000000000 of a second means as much as saying my Italian sports car beats yours to top speed by 3 MPH…even though we’ll never drive past 70.

For Apple to disrupt the watch marketplace, they will need to somehow make a digital wristpiece more of a status symbol than the mechanical marvels out there clad in precious metals with a bazillion mechanical movements. I for one can’t wait to see what they unveil. They know style and design better than any (Sir Jony, anyone?), but it remains to be seen if they can crack the well-entrenched premium watch (time-keeping jewelry) market.

wab95

Bryan:

Most people lack the capacity to imagine that which lies beyond their prior experience until they have actually seen it, and whatever they can imagine will be constrained by their personal world view. Further, most of us are far more concrete in our concepts than we are subtle or expansive, meaning that if something bears a label with which we are familiar, like ‘watch’, we are going to be pretty literal in our conception of what that is. And if our worldview of such devices assigns a low value or priority, or we cannot envision any improvement on our beloved wrist piece, then we are more likely than not to dismiss any notion of a new entry.

What we imagine does not add anything new, and is indeed dismissible, but what we imagine, history tells us of Apple, will bear little resemblance to what Apple will rollout.

This is where patience, silence and observation before judgement have their virtue.

wab95

Bryan et al:

One other thought, at the risk of being repetitious, although it’s been awhile since making this point; Apple plays the long game and takes the long view. We are now travelling a very long arc on this post-PC era.

The products we’re seeing rolled out in this era are being pitched both to present users, at least those who may appreciate them, but importantly to an emerging demographic, who will grow with these products as many here have grown with the PC. That demographic will discover uses for these devices, and take them to levels of utility, that the current generation would never have dreamt. As for many of the present generation, such devices might appear as alien as an iridescent Europan squid - and about as appealing.

Just as one might have had a professor or two (or a relative) in 1980s and early 1990s who dismissed PCs as overpriced toys that would never catch on or have any practical value (I encountered my fair share of these blokes), one should not be surprised that this phenomenon continues in the present.

Indeed, one should set this in context, when hearing or engaging in dismissing these new devices, which like it or not, may not even be intended for that dismissive demographic who, rather than dismissing the device, is dismissing itself from that future.

aardman

The longer Apple takes to come out with the next best thing, the more delightfully mind blowing and comprehensive it is.  This will be a whole new sub-ecosystem and will open up new markets that heretofore were not within Apple’s horizons.

What I expect is that the new devices, more than just being innovative tech devices, will be legitimate haute fashion designs as well.

ibuck

In 1984, I bought a Seiko digital watch that also read the wearer’s pulse rate—unreliably as it turned out. i don’t know if Seiko was first, but the concept of a watch with sensor(s) has been around at least 3 decades.

So these copying accusations are amusing to me.

ibuck

@wab95:
Love your thoughts and phrases, especially “constrained by their personal world view” and “dismissive demographic” and

This is where patience, silence and observation before judgement have their virtue.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@mrmwebmax: Good point about the purpose of a wristwatch. I wear my TAG regularly and haven’t found anything to replace the WIMM (yet). When I do, that will be more of an activity watch than a look nice one. Much like I have decent sneakers for everyday wear and keep my really nice ones spotless for formal events.

wab95

@ibuck:

Many thanks. My pleasure.

RonMacGuy

I wear my TAG regularly and haven’t found anything to replace the WIMM (yet). When I do, that will be more of an activity watch than a look nice one.

So if/when the iWatch turns out to be awesome, but requires an iPhone to work, will Brad return to the iPhone fold with an iPhone 6 purchase?!?!?  Any chance?

grin

 

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