Tag Archives: Apple Watch

The Economist Doesn’t Get It: Apple Watch Edition

I don’t pretend to know how the Apple Watch will do, but I’m sure that many of the people predicting its failure don’t know what they are talking about.

Add to the list, The Economist.

Yet in spite of Mr Cook’s bouncing optimism, Apple seems unlikely to turn its watch into the next big must-have gadget. Certainly, the watch will not match the success of previous products, such as the iPod or iPhone. This is true for two main reasons. First, Apple’s newest creation replicates many of the functions that the smartphone already makes so seamless, such as checking e-mail, receiving calendar alerts and communicating with friends. People are unlikely to want to shell out a sum between $350 (for the most basic model) and $17,000 (for the fanciest version) for something with so few extra functions. Second, the Apple Watch is dependent on a nearby smartphone, which means that users will just be adding another device to their growing menageries instead of replacing one. This is not unlike selling someone a wristwatch that requires a pocket watch to work.

from Launching the Apple Watch: The time machine | The Economist.

Their first point could have been made about the iPhone, and certainly was about the iPod. Neither didn’t anything that something else didn’t do before them.

Their second point though is particularly foolish.

Once upon a time, computers were expensive. People bought one, and used it for everything they could. Sometime between the iPod and the iPhone, computing devices became cheap enough that people bought more than one, and used them for specialized use cases.

And yet, some people, don’t get it. Those people seem to be overrepresented among technology reporters and pundits. They expect new devices must replace earlier devices, like the personal computer replaced the typewriter, etc. Certainly new devices may replace older devices — the iPod replaced walkman, and the iPhone replaced the iPod, but must? That’s pure superstition.


On Apple Watch Upgrades

While waiting for the release of the first Apple Watch, Apple watchers are killing time by speculating about future versions. Today John Gruber quoted a piece by Serenity Caldwell at iMore about the upgrade scenarios for the $10,000+ Apple Edition watches. She hopes for an upgrade program so that those who can afford to spend $10,000+ for a watch, the poor dears, don’t suffer when Apple releases inevitable improvements. (Meanwhile, she thinks its fine for those who pay $350 for a watch, many of whom don’t have the option of spending $10K+ for a watch, to buy a new Apple Watch every few years.

Gruber added his own take:

I hope Apple Watch — at least the Edition models — is upgradeable. I would bet that it’s not. The single most frequent question I’ve received this week is how can Apple justify $10,000+ prices for a watch that will be technically outdated in a few years. The simplest answer is that it’s for people who don’t care.

I say I’d bet against upgradeability simply because it’d be so unlike Apple. But, the whole idea of a solid gold $10,000 watch is also unlike Apple. We’re in new territory here. And I do wonder why Apple called out the modular design of the S1 on their technology page. Why does this image exist? An “upgrade” would probably require new sensors and antennas and battery too — more or less replacing everything inside the watch case.

This prompted a short exchange between Gruber and I on Twitter:

This has come up before. Back in December, Jean-Louis Gassée explored the question of Apple Watch upgrades through the lens of the arrival of the dSLR in the camera market, and I turned my comment on his piece into an earlier blogpost on the subject.

I thought I’d take this opportunity to restate and update my thinking on the subject:

To make the Apple Watch a reality, Apple has had to make some key compromises in the service of battery life. Despite significant efforts to miniaturize the electronics, the Apple watch seems plump, while every other Apple device is slim. Despite the satisfaction of having a personalized watch face visible to passers by, the Apple Watch shows a blank black face until the wearer raises it to his or her face. Despite the desirability of having all the functions of the watch available all the time, many of them, including third party apps, rely on a Bluetooth connection to the owners iPhone. These compromises are all, ultimately, in the service of a full day’s battery life under typical use.

Given this, I think battery life will be a primary consideration in Apple Watch updates. Batteries are incredibly important for portable electronics like the Apple Watch, smartphones and notebook computers, but despite their importance, the pace of improvement is about 10% a year. Battery life of portable devices has improved at a faster pace though. This has been accomplished by making the devices more efficient in their use of power, and much of this improvement is due to Moore’s Law.

Moore’s law can produce a halving of power consumption every 18-24 months. People worrying about the Apple Watch updates seem to be assuming that updates will come at a similarly rapid pace. I think this is unlikely, because Apple has already made significant architectural and user experience accommodations to achieve reasonable battery life. Because of this, I suspect that the core electronics of the Apple Watch account for less than half of the daily power budget of the device, while the display probably makes up the majority. Display power consumption is driven primarily by the power consumption of the light emitting diodes, which also only improve at a slow pace.

My guess is that the existing Apple Watch battery life is good enough for now, but needs further improvement. Therefore, I would expect that any Moore’s law improvements will go to battery life rather than performance or functionality. Battery capacity improvements will be put to similar use.

Once battery life is truly sufficient, Apple will next spend further improvements in thinness, by reducing the size of the battery.

The arrival of a significant improvement in the computing abilities of the Apple Watch may not arrive until complimentary communication capabilities can fit within the form factor and power budget.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes 5-10 years before truly stand-alone Apple Watches are available. On the other hand, I think that identity and fashion are increasingly important drivers of consumer tech product cycles, and I think the Apple Watch will bring that into much sharper focus. I will probably have more to say about that soon.

On Moore’s Law’s and the Apple Watch

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.



Apple Said to Reap Fees From Banks in New Payment System – Bloomberg

A few months after Apple released the first iPhone, they cut the price by $200 because…well, we don’t know. It could be that sales were below what they expected, or it could be that it doing better than expected an they (and/or AT&T) wanted to build on the momentum.

Either way, the fact that the retail price of the phone was subsidized by other revenue streams is part of what made the price cut possible.

I note that a similar opportunity exists with the new Apple Watch, which plays an important role in Apple Pay, their new mobile and internet payment system. As Bloomberg reports, Apple Said to Reap Fees From Banks in New Payment System.