After nearly a year of hype and over a month of ownership, I’m convinced that Apple Watch is not the next big thing in mobile communication. Or, more accurately, I’m convinced that — right now — there’s no way to bet wisely on whether or not it’ll ever live up to that lofty goal. How customizable the Taptic Engine is allowed to be in the near term will have a lot to do with whichever way its cards finally fall.
However, I do think that the wearable has a potentially bright future as a personal health and safety device, particularly if Apple’s able to dismiss the FDA’s nonsense (which is a bigger “if” than it should be) and position Apple Watch as a diagnostic and trend monitoring tool for things like blood pressure, glucose levels, oxygen content, arrhythmias, sleep apnea, and so on. Of course, the best case scenario here puts this functionality at least a few generations away. (This contingency constitutes a very different idea than what I’m presenting in this post, and I’ll share it with you shortly.)
But if neither of those things come to fruition, and if Apple Watch only ever achieves proficiency as a notifications filter and time-saver, I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb when I say Apple Watch would then be an abject and irreversible failure.
Of course, I don’t actually think that’ll be the case. I think Apple Watch will evolve and become genuinely compelling over the next several years. I think its communications capabilities will advance to the point where the haptic goodies I wrote about early on actually become a reality, and I’m looking forward to its Life Alert and deep health angles. I’m selfish, and I’m not getting any younger, so I want Apple Watch to succeed. And I expect it’ll achieve modest success (by Apple’s standards), with permanent sales rates settling in just under iPad numbers.
Still, I’ve had a conspiracy theory swirling around in my head for a while now, and it’s grown stronger by the second as my desire to wear Apple Watch has grown weaker by the day:
What if Apple Watch were designed to fail?
That sounds crazy, and it probably is, but consider the implications. Most critics agree that Cupertino’s wearable is fundamentally designed to round out the Apple ecosystem and — more than anything else — sell more iPhones. The tether isn’t just a technological stopgap, it’s a fundamental strategy that defines the product category. And if an Apple Watch LTE ever does see release, it’ll be priced highly enough that the dramatic majority of users will more easily afford an Apple Watch Sport and subsidized iPhone combination than the standalone model. Apple is disinterested in cannibalizing iPhone sales in any way, though they might throw a bone to some small minority willing to spend an exorbitant amount of cash to cut that cord. But the point of all this is simple: Apple is the iPhone company, and that’s not changing.
Now consider: What if somewhere in the back of Apple’s collective hive mind lives the idea that, somehow, some company (Google or Samsung or someone else) might bungle their way into a compelling smartphone replacement — with a futuristic UI to match — that could challenge Apple’s mobile market dominance? Maybe Apple Watch is a preemptive strike not to take that new segment for itself, but a massive gambit that exists solely to derail that line of industrial thinking altogether.
Remembers, before Apple Watch launched, there was a lot of talk about how the device, more than any other product ever, would make or break the wearables market. I wrote about it, and so did many others. The idea, obviously, is sound: If Apple, the world’s largest and most resourceful technology brand, can’t nail the smartwatch, then neither can anyone else. And if the smartwatch is thus a nonstarter, then so too is the entire wearables industry. The wrist, after all, is the most consumer-friendly, acceptable entry-point for wearables, and the failure of the smartwatch would be a deathblow to every smart-anything-else draped anywhere else on the body. (And if wearables tank, you can forget about implantables, too, albeit those are largely forgettable already.)
Apple knows this, and I wonder how likely it’d be for an Apple Watch flop to actually hinder iPhone sales. Would the brand suffer some kind of damage in the eyes of the public, losing a bit of that sales-driving cachet they’ve kept captured like lightning in a bottle for so many years? I’m not sure. But in many ways, it seems that the wearable product category, once killed, could cause consumers worldwide to double down on the smartphone as the gold standard, the unquestioned logical conclusion. And that, I think, would underscore iPhone’s dominance, perhaps even boosting its presence faster and more substantially than a successful Apple Watch might.
Maybe Apple Watch is so half-hearted on purpose.
And maybe its Taptic Engine, Force Touch panel, gold Edition construction, and Marc Newson introduction are all just a test bed for future iterations of Cupertino’s world-beating handset.
Yes, Apple Watch has a Digital Crown.
But the iPhone has a real one.