First thoughts on Apple Watch hardware platform, design and interfaces


Today, Apple announced its first wearable device -- Apple Watch.  Available in early 2015, the wrist-worn device will be available in multiple sizes, multiple face finishes, and bands to satisfy as many potential iPhone users as possible.  Here are some initial thoughts on the announcement:

  • While there is a lot of noise around the smart watch segment of Wearable devices, Apple is starting with this product being first a watch that incorporates elements of style and fashion in addition to the function of having a connected wearable.  The positioning of Apple Watch will contrast with other watches instead of the health and fitness products.  Audiences are likely to assess a value to Apple Watch simply for its appearance.

  • There is apparently more value in tying a watch to a smartphone than creating a replacement device – for now.  Apple Watch requires an iPhone 5 or newer smartphone for some of its functionality.  iPad support is not part of the initial release and Apple Watch is not intended to be used without an iPhone.  This puts Apple on-par with other product developers offering smart watches and smartphones, potentially narrowing its total available market (the investment for a non-iPhone user is the cost of the smartphone plus the watch).

  • Apple has built part of its successful business model through the design and manufacture of “hero” products where one main model is available at a time.  This speaks to the success of the organization since Tim Cook was leading Operations.  The multiple Apple Watch sizes, face styles and bands creates a multitude of choices (described during the launch event as “millions of combinations), which the company has historically avoided.  Choices, such as these, create more revenue streams for Apple, but also risk lower blended margins because of the need to build some inventory of all configurations and components.

  • Introducing a new touch interface for Apple Watch addresses the challenges of incremental control on a small physical interface, such as a watch face, however it also deviates from the experiences that iOS device owners are familiar.  Will iOS users learn the pressure-push function of the Apple Watch and expect similar behavior on their iPhone, or will they tolerate learning a different interface at all?  Experience is paramount to Apple’s development process and Apple Watch appears to add complexity to user experience.

  • The initial Apple Watch is designed for right-handed users.  The position of the side button and crown element of Apple Watch are single-sided.  Many left-handed users have adapted to wearing a wristwatch as if they are right-handed (including this analyst), so it may not be a show-stopper though some portion of the potential audience could find this limiting.

  • Apple Watch will be available starting in early 2015.  Missing the important holiday shopping and gifting season with Apple Watch will have an impact on the roll out when the product is eventually released.