The Apple Watch and Moore’s Law

Back in October, Jean-Claude Biver, president of LVMH’s watch division (makers of high end brands such as TAG Heuer and Hublot), had this to say about the Apple Watch:

“A smartwatch is very difficult for us because it is contradictory,” said Mr. Biver. “Luxury is supposed to be eternal … How do you justify a $2,000 smart watch whose technology will become obsolete in two years?” he added, waving his iPhone 6.

Jean-Louis Gassée, writing for Monday Note:

At the medium to low end, the impact of Moore’s law was nearly lethal. Smartphone cameras have become both so good and so convenient…that they have displaced almost all other consumer picture taking devices.


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.)

We’ll see how all of this plays out with regard to sales. I’ll venture that the first million or so AppleWatches will sell easily. I’ll certainly buy one, the entry-level Sports model with the anodized aluminum case and elastomer band. If I like it, I’ll even consider the more expensive version with a steel case and ingenious Marc Newson link bracelet — reselling my original purchase should be easy enough.

Regardless of the actual sales, first-week numbers won’t matter. It’s what happens after that that matters.

I have a different set of expectations for a watch than I do for my iPhone. Fair or not, I expect my watch to last forever, or until it breaks beyond a reasonable cost of repair. I think it is key that Apple find a way to keep my first generation Apple Watch usable longer than my first generation iPhone. Perhaps that’s just old school thinking.

  • Opinions about the Apple Watch have largely focused on the hardware. That’s only half the story.

    Like the iPhone, Apple Watch’s future depends just as much on the software developed by Apple and 3rd-parties as it does Apple’s ID.

    • Yes, but hardware advances often enable software advances.

      • Absolutely (and I’d go as far as to say hardware advances always enable software advances).

        I’m trying to make the point that critics perhaps shouldn’t draw any conclusions about AppleWatch until we see a solid sample of the software solutions created for it. An unexpected or unforeseen app is likely to make AppleWatch indispensable to someone…someone who at the moment think they – and many others – have no use for AppleWatch.

  • Bob

    I’ve been thinking about this same thing. I need to go back and rematch the keynote because i vaguely recall there being some slide that show the watching sort of ‘exploded’ and there being a point made of how there was a sort of SoC board in the watch. I wonder if that whole thing can be upgraded at the Genius Bar and BOOM! you have Apple Watch 2017…

  • rogifan

    I think people will need to adjust their expectations. But I also think Apple has been/is thinking about upgradability and based on how the internals of Watch have been designed Apple might surprise us all and allow battery and soc to be replaced without having to purchase a new watch. Also one would assume less processor intensive applications will be used with Watch so it may not need to be upgraded as frequently as an iPhone would.

  • Jim McPherson

    I wonder if, besides battery life, this also contributes to the idea that no software should actually run independently on the phone.

    Of course, I’d also hate to replace my $5000 watch after a year or two to get one with a 48 hour battery rather than 24 hours.

    • Sigivald

      If you have a $5000 one, it’ll be because it’s in a very expensive gold case with a very expensive band.

      No reason they can’t just replace the guts for you.

  • Dayv!

    For the gold models in particular, the solution is obvious: a trade-in program. Recycle/reuse the gold in your Apple Watch 1 to receive a substantial savings on a newer model. The stainless steel model, while the most appealing to me, will probably be the lowest long-term value proposition.

    • Moeskido

      That idea’s been addressed. The price of gold fluctuates. “Cash-for-gold” doesn’t sound like a business Apple would ever want to be in.

  • sl149q

    It is reasonably obvious that Apple has designed a smart watch system that allows the battery and CPU assembly to be easily swapped. You will simply buy a new set (battery / CPU) every few years to enjoy the effects of Moore’s law without having to throw out and replace the expensive outer case (assuming you have purchased the high end luxury version.)

    The cost of a new assembly and installation will be something less than the purchase of whatever the current entry level smart watch is (i.e. the cheapest case with the then current battery / CPU.)

    It is also likely that the screens will be replaceable (if only to fix broken ones.) So if Apple introduces a new type of screen, that would simply become another upgrade option.

  • My understanding is that the current Apple WatchKit API is more like an I/O terminal to apps running on an iOS device than it is a free-standing device.

    As such, the demands on the watch SoC will be relatively constant over time, and therefore, most of the progress of Moore’s law will be invested in battery life improvement and cost reduction. Even then, I doubt that Moore’s law will lead to a significant change in the Watch user experience over generations, because I’d guess that the display and wireless account for a significant portion of the power budget, and their power consumption isn’t significantly impacted Moore’s law. Similarly, I doubt the SoC cost will make a big difference in the device cost, particularly in higher end models.

    Over time, I’m sure that Moore’s law will result in significant generational discontinuities, but they may come every 5-10 years. One major shift will come once its possible to do more significant processing on the device.

    Apple is apparently going to give developers more access to run code on the watch in the next year, which will change this picture somewhat.