Apple Watch Will Struggle to Grab Consumers: $349 for Excessive Tech?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The best news about Apple Watch: it won't be available until 2015, so no one will make the mistake of buying you one for Christmas.

Apple Watch is the first new product from the company in four years and it also is the first new product, ever, under CEO Tim Cook. Huge ego is riding on this. “I am so excited,” Cook gushed a number of times in the product introduction event. He seemed to mean it; that is, it did not appear to be P.T. Barnum hucksterism.

Even so, it is hard to see Apple Watch succeeding. Not every expert agrees, but consider the negatives:

First there’s the price: it is pegged to start at $349 and, for it to really work, the owner also needs an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, or iPhone 5 variant. Older iPhones need not apply. Ka-ching, the sound of the cash register ringing again.

Then there are the ergonomics. Apple did not release details about the Watch’s screen resolution, but the indication is that it will come in two sizes: 38 mm and 44 mm.

How big is that? 38 mm is about an inch and a half. 44 mm is about an inch and three quarters. The New York Times translated those dimensions into “about the size of a quarter and a postage stamp.” My wrist looks to be about 28 inches from my eyes. I ask you: can you see what’s on your iPhone - with a four inch screen - if you hold it in your extended hand?

Of course you cannot.

The Apple Watch screen will be less than half as big.

At the product introduction event, Apple executives demonstrated a parade of cool Apple Watch apps - Siri, contacts, a clock, music, email, plus a lot of apps are in the development pipeline. W Hotels, for instance, is building an app that will let a guest unlock his/her hotel room door with an Apple Watch. BMW will roll out an app that will let an owner find where he parked his Bimmer.

Cool stuff. But picture this: an email comes into your Apple Watch, so what do you do? Lift your wrist up to your nose so you can see what it says? How suave (not).

Can the Clock Keep Running?

Smart watches go back over 20 years, when Seiko and Casio introduced a range of timepieces that were programmable and also had memory capabilities. Everybody of a certain age owned one and may still, because after a few futile weeks of wearing the thing, and unsuccessfully wrestling with the ergonomic challenge of a small screen and the difficulty of data input into a tiny device, almost all of those watches were tossed into the back of desk drawers and forgotten.

As far back as 2004, Microsoft produced the Spot Watch, aka Smart Watch with SPOT technology. It required a special wireless MSN subscription service to do anything special, but it had its fans. Just not many. Microsoft quietly killed the thing in 2008.

It is not that these early smart watches weren’t cool. They were, at least in an uber-nerd sort of way. It is that human beings could not use them.

Apple Watch has that problem, but it also has what you might call the redundancy problem. To get it to work, really, there needs be a paired iPhone. So you are carrying both your iPhone and your Apple Watch and you want to check your afternoon calendar. Which device do you turn to?

We thought so. Ease of use trumps cutting edge tech style. Always.

In short, this wasn't revolutionary enough.

“It’s not the category defining product that the iPhone and iPad were," said Andy Till, CTO at Symphony Teleca, a mobile software developer. "I wanted to see a great standalone experience. I felt underwhelmed. Yes, it’s beautiful looking. But it’s a jack of all trades and master of none.”

Till, too, raised a good question: why did Apple debut the Apple Watch a good four months before availability? iPhone 6, by contrast, is available within a week or two. The Apple Watch will be available sometime in “early” 2015.

Guessed Till: “I don’t think Apple are fully confident they have the recipe right. They want feedback, so they can get it more right.”

Apple showed at the introduction conference how a user could read an email on Apple Watch - presumably by lifting the arm up to the eye - but answer that same email on the paired iPhone. Uh, so what? Isn’t it simpler just to read and respond on the one device, the iPhone?

Now, Apple Watch does have a bunch of personal health related sensors built into it that aren’t found on iPhone. It can easily take your pulse. It also can conjure up an image of your beating heart and it can text that image to another Apple Watch owner. We saw that multiple times in the introduction event and, no, it did not get less creepy with repetition.

Like Clockwork?

Now for the other side. Joe Silverman, owner of New York Computer Help, is bullish on Apple Watch.

“I believe consumers will flock in droves to buy the Apple Watch," he said. "All of those who have purchased the Samsung, Sony and other mediocre smart watches will finally want to experience what a smart watch is supposed to be. Those who already have an iPhone, it’s a no brainer. Our iPhone customers have already booked appointments with us to perform the initial Apple setup for them so it syncs properly to their phones."

He says that about half of his Samsung Galaxy consumers are looking to fork over the cash for the two devices, the new iPhone and the Apple watch.

"The others wish the Apple Watch would be compatible with their Samsung Galaxy phone or Note and will wait until Samsung makes a better watch,” he said.

Ahmed Banafa, a Kaplan University professor for the School of Information Technology, too is a bull.

“Initially, I was questioning, who would wear a watch?" he said. "After looking at the features, this is a big deal for Apple. It’s more convenient than the phone. They are not just shrinking the iPhone. I think this will be the next wave, it’s what will make wearables common.”

Are you in a rush to buy one?

--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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