Watching the new Apple wearable market

Last week, Apple launched it’s first key wearable, the Apple Watch, to the usual Cupertino fanfare. It’s a significant step for both the world’s largest company and the wearables market in general.

Apple didn’t reach a staggering $700 billion market value without entering markets that it felt it could not change. It’s not often led in this respect but its products usually decimate the opposition, even if that’s just on desirability. But wearables are still a gamble; it’s a very much unproven market and perhaps Apple is taking a risk. Market research will only get so you far in product development – being asked if you’d use a product is different to actually dipping into your pocket to buy one – and Apple are very much early to the party this time round. With the iPhone, they arrived long after mobile phones had been on sale and with it, completely disrupted the market. With the Apple Watch, there is barely any market yet to disrupt.

Already, amongst the detractors, there are limitations too, and this doesn’t bode well for potential use cases (which I talked about last month). You need an iPhone paired to the Watch for starters. That’s not just two devices to carry, purchase and look after, it’s two devices to charge every night too. Samsung’s equally impressive Gear S smartwatch can take a SIM to work independently like a phone, but a colleague who is using one pointed out that it also needs to pair to a phone to run most of its apps. And that was before he bemoaned the short battery life as well.

Elsewhere, app developers have been quietly been complaining about the “underwhelming” software development kit. However, they are excited about glances, the new user interface technique which provide short, contextual views of key app information. This is very interesting, and could begin a trend towards more aggregated displays or consolidated views in all the apps we use. A real step forward, as is much of the Apple Watch interface, along with the Handoff Bluetooth connectivity and the tie-in with Apple Pay.

To be fair though, Apple could always be relied upon to build a great user interface. That will extend to the tactile feel and of course, the new high-end Apple Watch Edition. In the same way car manufacturers can now make even more money by offering heavily-specified, high-end vehicles, Apple have realised they ship to wealthy clients and surely any sales shortfall will be made good with the Edition model.

So it’s early days, and there is plenty of compromise to be found. The iPhone, iPod and the iPad: they just worked straight out of the box. Here some patience is needed. Perhaps Apple is leaning a little too heavily on the faith of its fans to all be early adopters. We don’t yet know what the audience tipping point looks like or when it will be. That moment where the critical mass of uptake pushes us all over the edge to get involved. It’s basically that day when suddenly you just *had* to be on Facebook; that’s the adoption technology or software needs for success.

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