Check your Watch: time for Apple’s moneyball event
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I’m not at Apple’s “Spring Forward” media event in San Francisco today, which explains why I am, at the moment, well-rested, well-fed, and not anxious about whether it’s time to start converting my indifferent milling-around into a not-fooling-anybody intense interest in anything or anyone that happens to be right by the front doors.
As usual, Apple’s invite was colorful but coy. The reference to the daylight savings shift and the fact that the retail launch of Apple Watch is now only a month and a half away at most makes it clear that this will be Apple’s first real demo of its much-anticipated Watch.
I was at the Watch event in September. The hardware looked and felt final but Apple’s story about it felt incomplete. It’s inconceivable that Apple still had no clue about their own product after three or four years of intense development. Instead, it seemed like they were still fine-tuning the story they intended to tell about it. And if Apple Watch is like the iPhone and the iPad, the device has been doggedly conceived as an empty glass canvas for apps. Telling the story of Apple Watch without a thick atmosphere of third-party apps around it is like trying to write a full sentence without any verbs.
Watch Andy discuss the event
But Apple released the necessary updates to the iOS software development kit and devs have been scrambling to build iPhone apps that work with Apple Watch. Rumors also report that a small number of devs have been invited to the mothership to personally fine-tune their apps with actual hardware. In this initial release, devs can’t write apps that run directly on the watch, but their iPhone apps can “broadcast” (for lack of a better word) a watch-style interface into the device.
These chosen few are ungodly blessed for the opportunity to fine-tune their apps on actual hardware. I’m reminded of my experiences with a pre-release iPad. I wasn’t allowed to reveal that I had it to anybody by my editors here at the Sun-Times, but nonetheless I was pinged constantly by friends and friends-of-friends who were developing iPad apps. By that time their nerves were shot; poor things, they were trying to write multitouch apps for a brand-new kind of computer that they had never touched before.
We’ll see a hurricane of Watch-enhanced phone apps will be available on launch day…and then the second flurry will hit a week later, when these same devs how differently their Watch app behaves “in the flesh” as opposed to in a sim window on a Mac.
My advice? This screen is much, much smaller than you think it is. And the amount of time and focus that the user will give to it is miniscule. The majority of the time I’ve been shown an interface under development and been asked for my opinion, I’ve had to tell a dev to delete, delete, delete and focus, focus, focus.
Wearing a Moto 360 every day for six months has taught me many unexpected lessons about smartwatches. Key among them: the role of a smartwatch is the same as the role of all wristwatches ever. We look at it for just one piece of information and then we lower our wrists. For a hundred years, this one piece of info has been “the time.” Now, app developers need to figure out what one piece of information or one feature that their app delivers will be the reason why an Apple Watch user will raise their wrist and hitch up their sleeve a little bit.
So during an event that will almost certainly feature a prominent pageant of third-party app demos, Apple will finally answer the question that remained floating in the air on September: why on earth would anybody want to wear one of these things? This is the same question that both Pebble and Google have failed to emphatically address. The Pebble and Android Wear watches are terrific and immensely handy. But like the original iPad, the meaning and purpose of a smartwatch are easier to experience than to explain.
The other question that Apple left hanging there at the Flint Center: how much will this line of watches actually cost? They only mentioned a $349 starting price, with three tiers of hardware separated only by the materials used in the case.
Apple won’t surprise us with a lower price for the $349 Sport edition. Sales of Android Wear devices are undisclosed but they must be substantially under a million units, given the number of times its required companion app has been downloaded from Google Play, and Apple is under zero pressure to compete with anybody on price.
I’ve been puzzling the pricing of the stainless steel and Edition watches alongside everyone else. And like everyone else, my answer is “Hell if I know.”
I’m encouraged by the fact that the stainless steel model is the only one called “Apple Watch.” It encourages me to believe that it’ll be attainably-priced, if not necessarily affordable. The difference between Sport and steel is the difference between an excellent $60 meal at a fancy restaurant in any big city and the $295 tasting menu at Per Se in New York. Holy cats that’s a lot more expensive…but ordinary people can get their hands on $295, and when you look at the difference in the product, it’s not hard to understand why it costs that much more. Plus, it’s not like you’re eating watches like this every month, right?
The gold Edition watch? Crimeny. Part of me wonders if Apple has encouraged these stratospheric price predictions or even created them. People were expecting the iPad to cost a thousand bucks. The actual $499 price caused gasps in the room when Apple announced it. $5000 is a hell of a lot of money for a watch — shut the hell up, watch collectors: it is TOTALLY a lot of money for a watch — but it sounds like a lot less than, say, $15,000 and could help people think that $5000 isn’t so crazy after all.
But this is emphatically a product for the luxury market and I can’t believe that those people could be moved to buy this because it cost less than they imagined.
I’m at a total loss to guess. Let me say that a third time: I have no clue. Normally, I ask around to get some informed assumptions about cost of materials, add a 40% markup, and I’ll be in the ballpark. If anything, the actual price will be lower, because Apple is, collectively, a genius at sourcing and stockpiling components at a good price.
That’s out the window. There must be a ceiling on how much Apple could ask for it but I see a window of at least $15,000 above what I imagine as the $5000 rock-bottom price of this thing. This is not a volksdevice. This is a watch that’s designed to make a statement of how Apple sees itself, and I think its purpose is also to encourage high-wattage celebrities from sports and entertainment to wear an Apple Watch and thus encourage those of us among the Huddled Masses to find $350 for one with an aluminum case.
Apart from the watch? We might get a look at the new MacBook Air — if they choose to keep calling it that — with a Retina display. The whole MacBook line is ripe for CPU updates, in any event. And who knows what else Apple will throw into the schedule.
Annnnd here at two hours before showtime, the Apple online store is temporarily closed for maintenance. Meaning pre-orders on Watch will probably begin during the event, and/or new Mac hardware will go on sale today.
We’ll all find out soon enough. Tune in to http://www.apple.com/live/ at 1 PM Eastern, noon Central time to watch it live.
Oh, and you’ll need to be running Apple’s Safari browser (on a Mac or iOS device) or an Apple TV running the latest software in order to view the stream.
I hope and pray that one day, Apple amasses the financial resources and technical acumen necessary to host a livestream that works on all browsers. We’re all pulling for you Apple … 1997 was a rough year and we all know you’re still struggling to climb back to the top.
If you don’t have Safari, you can watch along with me and hear my live commentary on the This Week In Tech network. Just visit http://live.twit.tv/ .