In case you missed it over the weekend, Christopher Mims had a very good think piece in the Wall Street Journal about the Apple Watch, and how well it’ll be received by the tech-buying public.
His basic point is that 1) first-generation smartwatches like the Apple Watch will have limited functionality, and 2) this condition will change quickly because smartwatch technology is advancing very quickly.
Mims talked to several people in the thick of the smartwatch industry for his story, including Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky and David Singleton, director of engineering for Android Wear.
What he says rings true. When we look at the Apple Watch five years from now, the first generation of the device will probably seem primitive. The device is still heavily dependent on the (paired) iPhone for its functionality. Apps for the Watch are considered mere “extensions” of corresponding iPhone apps.
Apple has already readied the Watch to play music and do mobile payments independent of the iPhone. But there’s still a lot of key things it can’t do by itself — like GPS tracking, or phone calls. The NFC chip in the Watch, for example, hasn’t yet been opened to developers. So you won’t be able to do things like enter public transit using the Watch any time soon. So there goes that use case.
Mims’ comments about smartwatch technology moving quickly forward also tally with our own conversations with analysts and other sources in the space. Lots of capital is flowing into the development of faster chips and better sensors for smartwatches. But limited charge of smartwatch batteries, by all accounts, is a big problem and is likely to remain so.
And yet, while I like Mims’ take, I’m not so quick to write off the first generation of the Watch. That’s because I believe the true story of the appeal of the Watch can’t be told by the spec sheet.
The Watch may have some killer use cases that we’ll all get addicted to. It may do things that we will not want to go without after we’ve lived with them for a while. Apple has proven its ability to anticipate these key features and functions long before the we, tech-buying public, even know we want them. That is the real magic of Apple.
I have no doubt that legions of Apple worshippers will buy the Watch. The debut of the device will be full of the normal fanfare and impressive sales numbers.
But after the hoopla has died down, the Watch eventually must be judged by the same criteria used with any other piece of wearable technology.
Does this device do several things for me throughout the typical day that make a significant difference, eliminate a previous hassle, smooth out some friction point? If I accidentally left home without it, would I turn around and come back to get it? (The old “If I accidentally left home without it would I turn around and go back to get it?” test.)
That’s the question more pragmatic buyers will be asking, and if the answer is no, the Watch could be relegated to a place in that drawer where all my other fallen wearables live. Smartwatch Hell.
The thing is, there’s just no way to know that answer without using the thing for a few weeks.
We now know that life is way easier, and richer, and safer, when we carry a smartphone around with us. With the smartwatch most of us really have no idea. Is the simple extension of our iPhone apps onto our wrist enough? I doubt it, but I don’t really know.
So when I get the Apple Watch — and that will be soon — I will write a review of it after having it for a day or so. But the real truth about the utility of the device will surface when I’ve used the thing for several weeks.
Until then, I will make no bets on the ultimate success of the Watch, Apple’s first real stab at “the vision thing” in the post-Jobs era.