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Opinion: Spring Forward Was A Step Backward

Opinion: Spring Forward Was A Step Backward

March 10, 2015

Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs.

That’s pretty much the biggest takeaway from Apple’s Spring Forward event. In terms of overall presentation, the show was barely worth watching. Sure, the new MacBook looks good, the iPhone’s sales figures are noteworthy, and HBO NOW is a thing (I guess), but everyone was at this keynote for one reason and one reason only.

Unfortunately, when it came time for that reason to take center stage, everything about Apple Watch’s second chance to wow the world seemed glossed over and tacked-on. The biggest company on the planet had six whole months to put together half an hour of exciting user scenarios and compelling vignettes for what they want everyone to believe is a fundamentally revolutionary product. And we do believe it. But we wanted to be shown. We were all waiting for this to be the forum where Apple made the case for their newest and most ambitious offering ever, but all we got was a near total rehashing of the Apple Watch tour that’s been posted online for the last six months. No fresh interactions were demonstrated, no new paradigms were underscored, and no third party apps of note — even from the big boys allegedly crash-coding in Cupertino’s secret lair — were explained on stage.

Instead of a fashion-centric Faces exposé, we had Cook telling us how accurate Apple Watch’s timekeeping function is. I am not impressed — It is a computer, for crying out loud! Instead of showcasing the most heartfelt back-and-forth a couple could have via the Taptic Engine’s brand new communications platform, we got an Apple executive answering a fake text from his kid about how she locked herself out of the garage after a bike ride with her friend at 11 AM on a school day. And instead of highlighting Apple Watch’s inaugural health suite, we got a wealthy international celebrity plugging an African maternity program. That’s fine, and kudos to her for trying to make the world a better place, but that kind of pandering, feel-good fluff makes me feel bad about the product Cook and company are hawking. If you can’t sell me on one of the biggest pillars of Apple Watch without trying to shoehorn in some weird global guilt-trip (or whatever), it rather diminishes the merit of the actual product itself. I would’ve rather seen a group of nobodies like me grinding out an assortment of typically amateurish gym sessions — we’re the ones who need coaching, after all! — than the fitness-tracking tie-in we got. I’m not running half-marathons for charity in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. And neither is anyone else.

The keynote was so disjointed and cringeworthy, I almost believed it was all a setup for the marketing coup of a lifetime when Apple finally came around to MSRP. I wanted to see a giant slide high over Tim Cook’s head with Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition placed left-to-right along the bottom. I wanted to see “$349″ in huge letters, centered above the lineup. And I wanted that price tag to drop straight down to the steel model as the audience jumped up to cheer at the sheer shock of the surprise. I wanted to see the grand hype hoodwink. (Still, even without that, Apple’s announced pricing for the wearable was one of the show’s few high-ish points, as most of us expected the stainless version to cost a couple hundred more bucks on entry.) And realistically, I never expected any pricing tricks to take place. But I wanted something to happen. I wanted something to tell me that yes, Tim Cook knows how to sell snow cones to Eskimos.

But the simple truth is that he simply doesn’t. And that’s no knock on him — It can’t be learned, even if he had the master for a teacher. Cook is a supply chain wizard and the best CEO around. He’s rocketed past any expectations anyone ever had. But he’s not the guy you want selling the public on their desperate need to answer their decidedly first world problems with an even firster world solution. In a middle-class connected society, iPhone is king, and Apple Watch deserves to exist. I can think of a million ways the thing might inherently make my mobile life better, more efficient, more responsible, and generally more fulfilling. I haven’t been so excited for a piece of tech in over a decade, but if I was on the fence, Apple’s wholly lackluster presentation would’ve probably pushed me back over to the other side. At the very least, they’d have guaranteed my purchase a generation’s delay.

But it’s not all bad.

Tucked away inside the iPhone talk that came before, one of Apple Watch’s most important aspects was explicitly bolstered. I discussed the wearable’s true potential for medical monitoring and “deep” health analysis in this essay, and today’s announcement of ResearchKit for iPhone reinforces the notion that Apple Watch’s sensors were not censored by any sort of busybody regulatory meddling. Indeed, Apple made it absolutely clear that the future of their mobile fleet includes medical diagnostic capabilities. Not just health monitoring, mind you, but the actual distribution of diagnoses. This specific, loaded term was repeated several times on stage, as Apple made certain everyone understood, in no uncertain terms, that ResearchKit “turns iPhone and HealthKit into powerful diagnostic tools.” If a contemporary iPhone app can help users diagnose and manage things like Parkinson’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and asthma, the roadblock to all this and more is only skin deep for that big fat heart rate sensor on the back of Apple Watch. I expect an industry-best workout companion for version one. I expect a trillion-dollar company for version two.

So even as Apple’s having trouble making their case for Apple Watch, that’s one heck of a silver lining.

At the end of the day, we’re going to have to stop expecting Apple to paint a detailed picture of Apple Watch. Those days are over. They haven’t got the Salesman running the show, and that personality no longer exists on campus or in company. But they did build the device, make it reasonably affordable, and attach it to the most popular and capable development community in the world. And frankly, that’s enough. If you want to be sold on Apple Watch, I think our WatchAware team’s done a good job of highlighting some compelling ideas, and we’ve got a great Apps showcase where some of the best developers going are showing off theirs. Of course, we’re not even your best resource.

So who is?

Just take a look in the mirror.