The Apple Watch finally goes on sale this month. In the days leading up to availability, we’ve seen criticisms and negative reactions fall along two tracks:

  1. What is the point of a smartwatch?
  2. And why would anyone spend $10,000 to $17,000 on a gold version of what can be had for $379?

Say what you want about the Apple wearable, but those are not the right questions to ask.

In examining the Apple Watch line, one can’t simply draw an analogy of Volt vs Tesla or Swatch vs Tissot. In those cases, there’s a definite performance difference under the hood — whereas the high-end ‘Edition’ has the identical guts of the low-end ‘Sport’. Some concluded that it will be a hard sell to think it has luxury appeal only by way of the supposed craftsmanship and materials science that went into the externals of the gold version. But that recognition is exactly what will make for a successful sale. Discerning eyes make their Manolo Blahnik or Hermès preferences known all the time. Although these are ‘just’ shoes and handbags at their core, the design and designer name influence the price despite the existence of cheaper house brands and even identical knock-offs. Is the ‘Edition’ any different? 

Both quality craftsmanship and sheer unadulterated bling have cachet. Anyone who questions the existence of ‘Edition’ has probably never heard of Vertu or fails to appreciate the multi-million dollar business of selling to the well-off. Remember that many smartwatches to date tend to call to mind the nerdy Casio calculator-watch of the 1980s, so adding some style and luxury detail could elevate the smartwatch from ‘geek’ to ‘chic’. Lupita Nyong’o wore a pearl-encrusted Calvin Klein dress to the Oscars which was worth 100x more than the unadorned equivalent BECAUSE PEARLS. So can a $379 Apple Watch movement ensconced in 18k gold command $17k? Sure. Would someone buy it? Most assuredly. The question is not whether someone will buy, because there are plenty of people with disposable incomes that would think nothing of dropping a few grand on a bauble. And regardless of whether you think they are ‘douchebags’ because of faddish ostentatiousness, they are perfectly happy with their Fendis and Bentleys and Moët & Chandon. 

No, the real question is whether Apple can convince the masses that the ‘Edition’ Watch is indeed a uniquely-personal luxury brand to be coveted. Truth be told, even if sales can be counted on one hand, I’m guessing Apple will be pleased. But nonetheless it will be interesting to see how will it be viewed at scale. The level of customization allowed, coupled with the individualized health features, certainly address the ‘personal’. Does ‘gold’ automatically translate to “luxury item”? I think that this is not just an “emporer’s new clothes” situation and more than a handful will sell. There is no complex jeweled movement inside, but the Edition is the ‘tourbillon’ of the modern age. Let’s at least wait for the fashionistas to react before declaring it a bust. 

As for the idea that the smartwatch — Edition or otherwise — is a solution in search of a problem, people are failing to see the possibilities of more convenient device interaction. The smartwatch should not be viewed as yet another traditional computer screen to carry. If that were the case, then all the jokes about keyboard accessories would be spot-on. Instead, it should be seen as a productivity tool, an extension of the devices you already own. (And given all that, why shouldn’t a tethered phone be required?)

The value of a smartwatch is in its persistent presence, with the potential to change how often you interact with your phone when it may be inconvenient to do so. I experienced this to a small degree with the aforementioned calculator-watch. I saw that even more in the late 90s with a Timex pager-watch. I can understand the lure of always-present multi-function and I’m intrigued by the possibilities. 

Why a smartwatch? Again, not the right question. The other day, I was trying to do chores while my near-dead phone was charging in another room. I got a text and went to the phone to see. No sooner had I walked away, I got another. Then a phone call a minute later. Back and forth. A smartwatch on my wrist — with remote notifications and call answer — could have been useful in that scenario. And the Apple Watch, moreso than its Pebble/Gear contemporaries, appears to be capable of initiating actions rather than merely reacting to them (eg, notification-only). Let’s wait and see if the use-cases can make the value proposition a bit more concrete. I laugh at those who say Apple did not do an adequate job explaining the purpose of the Watch. I don’t need Tim Cook telling me why I want one — I expect the appeal to be organic. 

The value of a watch can be worth more than its plastic, aluminum, steel, and/or gold parts. It can be prized for its design, and, more importantly to Apple, it can be valued for its omnipresence. It’s with you at the sink when you have your morning coffee, while your tablet sits on the kitchen table. It’s on the steering wheel during the commute, while your phone is in your pocket. It’s in the boardroom during the meeting while your Mac is back in your office. Apple is not merely changing the phone/pocket equation. It is intending to change how often you conveniently interact with inconvenient computing regardless of location. With Apple Watch and things like ‘Continuity’ and ‘Handoff’, Apple is all about being able to move the interaction to wherever you are. 

Just watch…

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