The Apple Watch and the battle of fashion and functionality

Fashion is tricky. Some looks emerge white hot but don’t look great in history’s rear view mirror, others stand the test of time.

The Apple Watch is a marriage of form and functionality and has to answer to two masters. It has to pass muster as fashion and has to pack a lot of functionality into a small form factor.

There’s no doubt that the Apple Watch is elegantly designed. The detail on the watch body and bands is flawless. Divorced from fashion, the Apple Watch is museum worthy.

Will people buy it? That is the billion dollar question. The Apple Watch is being judged in a way that no previous Apple product has been.

Fashion aside, there’s a lot of punch in that small package and, given that Apple is giving developers access to the innards via an Apple Watch SDK, that punch will continue to evolve over time. The only issue that might hinder adoption from a functional standpoint is the question of battery life.

Charging is done via induction and requires a special cable. If life between charges is long enough (say, at least 24 hours), that shouldn’t be an issue. No doubt, someone will create a brick capable of charging both your phone and watch about the size of existing iPhone/iPad charging bricks. Keep one in your backpack or your pocket and you’ll always have a charging solution.

As to fashion, it’s difficult to predict someone’s specific tastes, certainly impossible to create a single design that fits everyone’s ideal sense of fashion. But that’s not what the Apple Watch has to do.

Just as those little white headphones started appearing everywhere and, eventually, reached critical mass and became fashionable, the Apple Watch will face its own adoption critical mass. My take? At some point, enough people will be seen wearing their personalized Apple Watches that the Apple Watch will become iconic.

  • Juno

    Can your hypothetical brick also charge bluetooth earphones please.

  • hexx

    too fat to my taste, prefer pebble more but then again, i don’t wear watch and haven’t since i started to use mobile phone back in 1997.

  • lkalliance

    Been pondering the product since last night. Apple occasionally needs to convince me to enter a product category as a consumer. That wasn’t the case with the Macintosh: I already used a computer, their challenge was to convince me to use theirs. Same with the iPhone: I already carried a phone so carrying something different in place of the phone, that could replace the phone and do a bunch more, wasn’t like they were asking me to change a fundamental behavior.

    I’d say the Apple TV falls in the same category too. I already watched TV, and I already watched things on other devices but would rather watch them on the TV, so a device that helped me do that didn’t create new viewing habits, it just shifted more viewing to a venue I preferred.

    I can recall three devices now that Apple is asking me to create new behaviors: the iPod, the iPad and the Apple Watch. Not that I’d never carried around a music player back in the day, or that I’ve never worn a watch, but these were behaviors I had long since cast off, that I’d deliberately made the decision to no longer do, and Apple was/is asking that I reconsider.

    Whether it’s beautiful enough to be considered high fashion isn’t really the point…it’s that is it good-looking enough to not make people self-conscious of having one on their wrist, and I think they succeeded. But beyond that, they have to get me to go back to wearing a watch.

    But this comes square against my decision whether or not to get an iPad. I have just about decided that, at some point, when I feel I’ve got the money to burn, I’ll get an iPad. But the Apple Watch is a potential different purchase. It may be that when I feel like dropping some coin, I’ll do it on one or the other, but not both.

    • agreed w/ ya until the last paragraph. the watch and ipad are completely different use cases, and are not mutually exclusive in purpose.

      • lkalliance

        Understandable you lost me there, as this would be a situation specific to me (though not necessarily unique): I can probably rationalize the purchase of one of the two devices. Agree two different use cases…which means I’ll have to choose which use case is the one I value more.

        (To complicate matters a little: I’m not enamored of the larger phones, and so it may be that when I’m ready to upgrade my phone a year from now, that I stick with the 5c descendant or whatever fills that space…which may mean no NFC, no Apple Pay via the phone. Remains to be seen if the Apple Watch can do Apple Pay when paired with a phone that has no TouchID or that isn’t Apple Pay-ready on its own).

        • Space Gorilla

          I’m pretty sure Apple said the watch paired with the iPhone 5 and up can do Apple Pay. TouchID is a convenience re: Apple Pay, not a requirement.

          • lkalliance

            Interesting. So if I interpret that correctly, then my iPhone 5c is sufficient for Apple Pay when paired with an Apple Watch, but only for in-store purchases? I would have guessed that the online version of Apple Pay, which needs no NFC, would work as well, Watch or no.

          • Space Gorilla

            Perhaps there’s some component to the online payment that requires the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

            But it does seem very clear that the watch paired with your iPhone 5 and up gives you the ability to use Apple Pay in stores.

            Apple Pay looks very smart, same convenience as a card, but more secure by taking the actual card data out of the process, and keeping it localized.

          • dreyfus2

            They actually named it, a secure storage area for the device code on the SoC. Only the iPhones 6 and the Watch seem to have that.

          • Space Gorilla

            Ah, so the secure bit is also on the Apple Watch. Thanks for the info.

  • I’ll be watching battery life carefully. In the absence of real numbers there, I suspect the plan is to make potential customers lust after it so much that when the battery life is revealed to be underwhelming we’ll buy one anyway.

  • Bob Greschke

    I don’t know. It’s really not a standalone product to me. So far (at least what I saw presented — and I didn’t see all of it) it’s just an accessory for your phone — like earbuds. If it can be an accessory for your iPad that’d be good (I don’t own any mobile phone). Is the charging cable just a USB jack on the other end so you can use your iPhone charger? The jury of voices in my head is still out.

    • lkalliance

      Will be interesting to see how it fleshes out between now and release. I believe it is reasonable that between now and then we will learn things that make it less exciting and not more (the same thing happened with the iPhone). But then as the device evolves it may appear to be a better investment.

  • lkalliance

    Wait…did Dave Mark just diss the leisure suit???!!!!!

  • lkalliance

    I wonder what the expected model is. I swap out my phone every couple of years, but I have carrier subsidies that make that more palatable. There are some suggestions that the lack of recent growth in iPad sales has to do with a longer upgrade cycle, and I would guess that cycle would be even longer with a watch.

    Also worth wondering if a watch would hold its value for resale like an iPhone or iPad (or Mac) does, given it’s going to spend its days in contact with skin all the time (the same could be said of the charging capability).

  • rb763

    Test of time doesn’t work because any old Swiss watch is fashionable because the technology peaked years ago. In a few years the Apple Watch will be much smaller and lighter.

  • On the basis that a smartwatch is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’, and combined with the pretty high price tag and severe battery difference from people’s current watches, I think its a bit premature to be thinking these will become ‘iconic’. But then again, smartphones weren’t always ‘must haves’ and have eventually become so, so perhaps the same thing will happen to smart watches. I just think the barrier to adoption is so much higher because the required justification is so much higher.

    • lkalliance

      I think we can’t judge it (or any other smartwatch/smartwearable) based on current timepieces. Yes, it has to not be ugly, but your iPhone comparison is spot on: it gave users powers that they didn’t really have before. The smart watch doesn’t yet do that, maybe, sorta, kinda, so I agree the value proposition isn’t obvious yet.

      What I found most interesting on further reflection was the new communication paradigm they showed off. Quick taps and scrawls. That is something that, if it takes off, could be a success driver. Its differentiator as a communication method is its brevity and accessibility. Don’t need to grab my phone out of my pocket, or even compose a message. Just tap-tap-tap. And it can be highly personal. Though it isn’t cross-platform: my friend would also need to have an Apple Watch. Will be interesting to see evolve.

      • Yeah I agree the personal communications feature is the closest we’ve got to the ‘killer app’ that so many state is required for a new product category to take off. So far, smartwatches aren’t really doing anything that unique that can’t already be achieved on other types of wearables or on existing smartphones. I.e. what is the one app/function that will drive widespread adoption of smartwatches? I don’t think we’ve seen it yet, but the Apple Watch paves as good a way as any for developers and product iteration to find it.

        • lkalliance

          Just occurred to me…file under “unforseen consequences”: if the Apple Watch takes off, then does our upgrade cycle then switch to it, and our phones remain static?

          A decade ago, I would upgrade my computer every two-to-four years. But now I haven’t done so in six years (with no plans to do so currently). Now I upgrade my iPhone every two years. If the Watch becomes the common interface, and the iPhone a conduit…does the phone become the static part and the Apple Watch the part I upgrade? I’d be pretty ticked if I had to upgrade both if all I wanted was a newer Watch.

          • I can imagine upgrading an Apple Watch if the battery life is improved drastically or it’s made fully waterproof, but otherwise this looks like something you keep for years.

        • Billy Razzle

          iPads didn’t do anything new either. “It’s just a big iPod Touch.” They’ve sold a very large amount of iPads.

      • Billy Razzle

        Since it can send texts by connecting to your iPhone, the communication can be cross platform. Not for the drawings, and heart beat sharing etc. but the quick taps to send texts should still work.

        • lkalliance

          I’m referencing the quick taps and drawings. That is potentially a new communication paradigm, if it proves popular. Extreme shorthand, and yet still very personal in a way that canned text responses can’t be.

      • Some of those powers are why I’m interested. I haven’t worn a watch in years, but I would wear this one.

        As to whether I’ll buy one in order to wear it or just look at it longingly, I’ll need to figure that out still… 🙂

    • Adrayven

      Yes, the smartphone.. tablet, were both ‘nice to haves’ when starting out as well.. but I’m not sure what you mean by higher barrier? Is the barrier really any different?

      They didn’t start out as a must have, and the tablet was even mocked just like this watch.. so saying that it’s not a ‘must have’ or has an unseen higher barrier is silly really IMHO.

      A boat isn’t a must have, summer cottage, motorcycle, jewelry … etc.. etc.. etc… It’s really not something we will know until it’s out there..

  • dreyfus2

    I was sceptic, but I love the design and options. Not concerned about the iPhone requirement either, as my iPhone is always with me anyhow. Yes, it is a bit fat, but not fatter than my Omega.

    If the battery life is 18 hours plus, I will totally get one. Anything less and I will wait for version 2.

  • matthewmaurice

    First, don’t ever confuse fashion and style. Great design, whether it’s a computer, a dress, or a poster transcends fashion and always has style. Second, let’s not kid ourselves, technology has had more than its share of fads, and fashion has certainly always played a part in the computer market, it was just a kind of ‘geek chic.’ Ironically Apple started most of them.

    As for the Apple Watch, unless battery life is abysmal and/or the touted features don’t work right (cf Mobile Me circa 2008) Apple will sell buttloads of them. The watch itself is almost a-aesthetical. Just a rounded square of shiny metal. But that’s the beauty of it, the parts of the watch that appeal to individual tastes are customizable. Like a classic leather strap? OK. Want burly metal link bracelet? Sure thing. Need something plasticky for the gym or physical activity? No problem. Want a band that’s dressy and slinky? We got that. And the faces should even easier to replace. Going from a classic Roman numeral face to a contemporary Arabic numeral face to a retro digital face will likely require little more than dial spin and click. The market for 3rd party faces and straps is going to be huge and will reflect the same range as iPhone/iPad cases. You’ll see everything from low-end, no-name stuff to Hello Kitty all the way up to Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent. If you don’t think Hermès will have a limited edition $1000 alligator strap available by the time the 18K gold model ships, you’re nuts.

  • matthewmaurice

    “At some point, enough people will be seen wearing their personalized Apple Watches that the Apple Watch will become iconic.” That point will be January 2016.

  • JordanM

    If some of the beats marketing team goes to work on the Watch then I would expect to see it pop up everywhere.

  • I keep wondering if the battery life on the Apple Watch would be improved if the watch did not have 24/7 Bluetooth / Wi-Fi going on in it. i.e. if it only pinged the iPhone when needed.

  • Moeskido

    The watch looks Starfleet-clean to me, which is good for my notional purposes.

    Anyone concerned about its current appearance should just wait until the version two releases to see how well Apple iterates with reduced-size components. I expect a few more design possibilities to appear as the technology inside the things undergo further customization.