Apple’s power to shock and surprise is becoming weaker and weaker. This isn’t entirely a failing of the company or its products (though it is a little of that), but it’s just the way Apple has grown.
It’s such a huge company now, with so many people developing the ecosystem around its products, that it’s quite impossible for them to keep anything under wraps anymore. Pictures, specs, features, exactly what they will announce with what name and price – it is known to almost everyone before the awesome event itself.
This, combined with the fact that expectations from Apple are always sky high, does lead to serious disappointment after the event is over. Not this time!
The event this time was different in many ways. It was staged at the Flint Center (their most iconic products have been launched there), it was live-streamed to the world (despite huge technical issues, including an intermittent Chinese translation voice-over that got streamed everywhere) and it finally had Tim Cook use Steve Jobs’s legendary phrase “one more thing” for the first time.
Tim Cooks up a Watch
The thing was the Apple Watch, and this was one of the first products from Apple in a long time to actually surprise people. Kept tightly under wraps, most people in the know were quite sure that there would be no Apple Watch till a few days before the event.
One hint came in form of the large number of invites sent out to the fashion press rather than just the Geek Mob. There weren’t any major spy pictures out there, no leaks on functionality and specs and almost no major chatter.
The ‘One More Thing’ moment for Tim Cook had the desired effect. The shock and awe across the world was profound. But beyond the fact that Apple was able to surprise the world, does the Apple Watch have enough to turn around the most dead of all categories?
A Big Task
Smartwatches came riding on a wave of euphoria, which was shortlived, as company after company learnt that getting people to strap on one more device on their wrist was almost impossible.
Customers just weren’t convinced of the need to wear something that is just a glorified accessory to their phone and pay big bucks for it. If the Apple Watch does become a huge seller, then the market would open up for other players to come swooping in.
Did Apple do enough? Does the first ever non-Steve Jobs curated and conceived product in a long time have what it takes to dramatically turn things around?
Well, it doesn’t start too well. This is a surprisingly chunky product from Apple, and at first glance, reminds you of the iPod Nano with a strap. But after the initial surprise, things become much better.
It comes in two sizes, three finishes (including 18k gold) and multiple strap options. It’s got a great screen and isn’t too big on the wrist. It’s the interface controller that is a bit of a revelation.
Apple took the crown of a typical watch, and made that the primary interface controller by loading some sensors into it and giving it a lot of functionality. Apple calls it a digital crown.
The Apple Watch has sapphire glass, a heart-rate sensor, a touchscreen and a force sensor (you can long press for a right click with options), a very sleek wireless charging system, voice control (it’s Siri enabled), has a special button underneath the digital crown to activate a messaging app, has walkie-talkie abilities and can give you voice-guided direction on maps.
The interface is completely different, the developer community participation seems robust. Cook himself said that there is no point in just shrinking a phone onto a wrist, and overall it seems Apple got it completely right. But...
The not so good
Yes, there are quite a few big buts here. The design is very unlike what people expect from Apple, as the good looks and cool design touches come more from the straps rather than the thick watch itself.
The small dots that you use to trigger apps and other features, seems to be an interface nightmare (the dots become too small if you want many of them on the screen, and endlessly scrolling around that area to get to your app is a terrible idea), battery life seems to be iffy since it wasn’t spoken about at all.
The interface requires you to learn new things, and is totally different from the iPhone and iPad. You need an iPhone for the watch to work, which makes this a very expensive proposition to get started with.
One of the biggest features on the watch is the fact that it will replace your credit card and wallet, but this comes at a time when Apple’s security and protection has come under serious scrutiny (iCloud celebrity leaks of nude pictures was the latest one and no, none of my pictures got leaked at all so stop searching for them!) and most importantly the product isn’t ready yet and will only appear sometime early in 2015.
This delay at a time when the competition is truly baying for blood with some great second- and third-generation smart watches (Samsung’s standalone new Gear S is awesome as are the Moto 360 and the LG G Watch R) could be serious trouble for the company.
Still, this is Apple and people tend to wait for something from them. Plus, Apple has enough time to tweak and perfect it before they get it out.
Time will tell (pun intended) if the Apple Watch sets new records in sales or becomes its first major disaster in a long time.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, September 21
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