In case you somehow didn’t hear, Apple announced their latest foray into new technology yesterday: the Apple Watch. Basically it’s an electronic watch that pairs with an iPhone, letting you send and receive messages, track your activity level, play music, use apps, make payments instead of a credit card, use maps–a whole slew of features. And since it’s Apple, it’ll come at a price: $349. That’s a lot to pay for an addon to your phone, and I’ve read a variety of responses to the announcement, many of which sound disappointed or skeptical that it will get off the ground. There are already smartwatches on the market, after all. Why in the world would people pay more for an Apple branded one?
I’d say people are forgetting their history.
After all, when the iPad was announced, there were more than a few skeptics. What need did people have of a tablet? They had netbooks, after all. And tablets didn’t have real keyboards. Tablets had been tried before, and they just hadn’t caught on. Apple had been successful with the iPhone, but they were reaching too far with the iPad. Of course, we know how that argument panned out.
But speaking of the success of the iPhone, let’s go a bit farther back in history and look at what people were saying about that venture before it launched. Yup–more of the same. The iPhone was going to fail because it wasn’t doing anything different from the rest of the phones out there. Apple was just following the crowd, and the iPhone wasn’t revolutionary enough. That was clearly wrong, as well.
So just because Apple is entering a crowded field doesn’t mean it can’t make a massive impact on that field, eventually barreling through the competition to win the race. Why is this? I can think of a number of reasons.
First, there are quite a few Apple evangelists out there. People who love Apple and everything it spits out. They get all the latest and greatest Apple products. This broad user base is very important to the success of a new product. If you can get enough people using something, it gives that something time to catch on. In this case, the Apple Watch pairs up with the iPhone–something there are already tons of kicking around. I personally have bought into the Apple ecosystem wholeheartedly. I’ve got a Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. Denisa has an iPad and an iPhone, too. One of the reasons I’m happy to have done this is how well all my devices work together. I take a picture on my iPhone, and Denisa gets it on hers. It shows up on my Apple TV. I download an app on one device, and it’s usable on all my devices. I’ve spent a fair bit on apps in the iTunes store, and once you get to a certain point, it only makes sense to stick with the ecosystem you’re in. An Apple Watch lets me do that in ways that an Android Watch wouldn’t, and I don’t think I’m alone on that.
Another thing Apple does well is making its devices not just work well, but look good too. With their new watch, they’re making sure there are plenty of options when it comes to styles–recognizing that a watch isn’t just a tool, it’s a fashion statement. After all, you can look at traditional watches and say, “They all do the same thing. Why are there so many of them, and why are some so much more expensive than others?” It’s all about quality and fashion. Apple gets that, and for better or worse, its products are for many a status symbol. It can milk that a long way.
Apple’s situated very well at the moment. It can make things popular and trendy just by virtue of being popular and trendy itself. Yes, that can be frustrating at times. Sort of like how I feel when a celebrity comes out with a book (that they may or may not have written) and it succeeds just by virtue of the fact that they’re already famous. But that’s the game–it’s how it’s played, and Apple gets that better than most.
In many ways, Apple’s different entries into technology remind me of books. “School Books” had been out for decades before Harry Potter came along. Vampire books were all over the place before Twilight. It would be all too easy to dismiss Potter or Twilight ahead of time, saying they were following in the same tired footsteps of others. But they succeeded anyway. Some of that’s due to skill, and some of it’s due to luck, and some of it’s due to anything in between. But the fact remains that just because something’s been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be done again, better than ever. The same thing happens in video games, too. Blizzard is well known for being a company that doesn’t make original games. It makes awesome versions of games that are already out there.
I don’t believe Apple succeeds by breaking new territory, despite what it would like the public to think. It succeeds by developing solid products and conveying to its audience why those products could play an important role in their lives. When I phrase it that way, it appears that Apple succeeds by being Billy Madison.
You ain’t cool unless you pee your pants. And Apple’s not about to let you forget it.