Apple Watch: A Smartwatch in Name Only

As I sat with the rest of the world watching Apple's annual Fall product announcement, I could sense in those I connected with on Twitter a feeling of excitement as Tim Cook finished the first part of the program and led into his "one more thing".  Apple certainly did not disappoint.  If NPD Connected Intelligence's Eddie Hold asked Apple to amaze him and I've asked companies to push the smartwatch beyond what we've seen thus far, then we both got our wish. The Apple Watch fits what a smartwatch should be- a nicely designed fashion accessory and a piece of technology (that does more than relay phone notifications to your wrist).

The first thing about the Apple Watch that struck me was the design.  Up to now, most smartwatches on the market have been designed for the pocket protector set.  According to The NPD Group’s Wearable Technology study, 42 percent of aware consumers won’t even consider buying a smartwatch unless the look and design of the device fits their personal style.  With this in mind, the Apple Watch comes in three varieties (the standard Watch, the Watch Sport, and the higher-end Watch Edition) with a bevy of band colors and designs,  giving consumers the opportunity to customize their watch (and Apple an opportunity to sell new types of accessories around the device). Interestingly, the Apple Watch looks more like a traditional timepiece than a smartwatch.

The Next Great Convergence Device?

Since the first smartwatches were introduced a year ago, some have dubbed the devices “products without problems to solve.”  While NPD’s Weekly Tracking Service reports sales over the past 12 months have totaled just over $130 million, they’ve lacked a killer application or distinct use case that would warrant a whole new device to own.  Sure for the tech hip, the market’s first generation of smartwatches had a geeky cool factor to them, but beyond relaying smartphone notifications to the wrist, they didn’t do much. 

By all indications, Apple’s Watch (and iPhone 6 and 6 Plus for that matter) will fit seamlessly into the rest of Apple’s iOS ecosystem which is important in growing appeal for the device.  Apple Watch will of course send health data to Healthkit, Apple’s new repository for user health data and metrics in iOS8.  It will work as a mobile wallet with Apple Pay (Apple’s new mobile wallet initiative) adding a new and potentially very powerful use case to the device.  It will even control the Apple TV (which would be a big bonus in my house since we keep losing the tiny remotes).  And I’m expecting Apple Watch to figure prominently into Home Kit, Apple’s framework in iOS8 for controlling connected devices in the home.  Apple Watch, as was described and hinted at yesterday, will touch the entire ecosystem.  

All that said, I think most are still unsure of the exact smartwatch use case.  But that’s OK.  By integrating the device (sensibly) into other applications and services, consumers with the help of iOS app developers will decide what Apple Watch is good for- and that’s what interests me.  How exactly can Apple Watch change the way we pay for goods and services?  In what new ways can I monitor my home using the device while I’m away?  What unique gaming experiences will arise using haptic feedback?  We call it a smartwatch mostly because of it’s positioning on the wrist, but Apple Watch really is a new way for consumers to experience Apple’s ecosystem and less about the functionality of a “traditional” smartwatch.  Consumers have high expectations for this device- yesterday’s preview suggests Apple is meeting the expectations for what Apple Watch should be.  Developing story...