Today, Jean Louis-Gassée shared some thoughts on forecasting demand for the Apple Watch. He is thoughtful about the impact Moore’s Law will have on the higher-end models, writing:
But the biggest question is, of course, Moore’s Law. Smartphone users have no problem upgrading every two years to new models that offer enticing improvements, but part of that ease is afforded by carrier subsidies (and the carriers play the subsidy game well, despite their disingenuous whining).
There’s no carrier subsidy for the AppleWatch. That could be a problem when Moore’s Law makes the $5K high-end model obsolete. (Expert Apple observer John Gruber has wondered if Apple could just update the watch processor or offer a trade-in — that would be novel.)
Gasse’s comments were picked up elsewhere, including The Loop. So far though, I haven’t seen anyone consider the impact of the WatchKit software architecture on this question. So I commented with my own thoughts, which I’m revising and publishing here.
The current version of WatchKit only gives developers access to the the watch as a smart terminal interfacing communicating with code running on an iOS device over Bluetooth Low Energy. In this model, the processing demands on the watch are pretty flat across different apps and over hardware generations, since they are bounded primarily by display resolution, which is itself bounded by the optical characteristics of our eyeballs, and UI update rates. As such, Moore’s law improvements would probably accrue to battery life and component cost. I doubt that will have a significant impact on the end-user experience — I suspect that the screen and wireless make up a large portion of the power budget, and neither are going to be tightly linked to Moore’s law improvements. As for expense, I doubt that annual SoC price reductions will have that much impact on anything but the lowest end models (if it impacts them at all).
We’ll see what happens “later next year” when Apple allows native apps to run on the watch. My guess is that their execution will be tightly managed, as they were for web apps in iOS 1.0, and native apps when they were enabled by iOS 2.0. As a result, Apple will have a lot of ability to manage the way the platform and apps takes advantage of Moore’s law.
I’d guess that there will still be major generational discontinuities, but they will come every 5-10 years, rather than every year, as they do with iOS devices. That still creates issues for a device that some may expect to last lifetimes, but perhaps that assumption must itself be revisited.
For all the talk about the timelessness of high-end timepieces among analog watch aficionados, it isn’t all that relevant in the larger sense. The fundamental issues, when deciding whether to spend thousands of dollars on a watch, is: do I have thousands of dollars to spend on a watch when a $50 watch would tell me the time just as well; if so, does spending thousands of dollars on a watch feel good to me (which is sometimes a question of whether it sends the “right” message to others).
I suspect that for all the people who, today, spend thousands of dollars on a luxury watch because of their quality and timelessness, a significant portion could find a different reason to spend thousands of dollars on a watch. Along side of them, a significant number of other people who could spend thousands on a luxury watch, but are unpersuaded by whatever appeal drives traditional high-end watch buyers. Some of these people could find other reasons to buy an Apple watch.
I am at this point unlikely to spend thousands, or even hundreds on any watch, particularly since I finally gave up on wrist watches all together when I started carrying a “pocket watch” (read: cell phone). I will not be surprised though if I am wearing a lower-end Apple Watch a year from now. As a kid in Utah, when I used to go skiing, my friend and I would be freezing our asses off riding the ski lift, and would find ourselves checking our watches for the temperature. Our watches didn’t tell the temperature, and, as I recall, there was not yet any (affordable) watch on the market that told temperature. Still, it was natural to us that a wrist device should provide useful information like that. So, I’m willing to give the (lower end) Apple Watch a try.