Wait, what? The Apple Watch (AAPL) doesn’t work without an iPhone? Isn’t that like requiring me to operate my oven in order to use my toaster?
As Apple states simply in promotional materials: “The Apple Watch will require the iPhone to work.” Yes, you can tell the time with it, but most of the advanced features, and anything requiring cellular connectivity, will require you to pair it with an iPhone.
I discovered this fact in the pre-dawn morning as I was catching up with the Apple hypfest, from the comfort of my couch. Yesterday I had other projects to finish. This morning I also asked my daughter about what yesterday’s “buzz” in high school about the Apple Watch. She said there was none, which is telling, because Apple launches typically have the students agog, even in rural Montana.
“People are more interested in iOS 8,” she said.
Thinking about kids, I also thought, if you have already taken out second mortgages and destroyed the college fund to equip your household an arsenal of $200-$400 Apple products, are you double-down on another series of $349 purchases (Apple Watch list price) for a Watch that “requires the iPhone to work.”
Hmm. No. My toaster works without my oven.
Yes, the video from Apple design chief Jony Ive is gorgeous and seductive and has me thinking about reaching for my credit card. No doubt, the iPhone has some luscious features: The crown navigation, the gyrocscopes and band designs are incomparable and will not be knocked off by a second-rate manufacturer in China any time soon. But if you are telling me I can’t use the music, wireless, or fitness functions without my phone, then that’s kind of a deal breaker.
The appeal to me about the concept of the “iWatch” was that if you were running out the door to go walk the dog, you could have a Watch for maybe basic music and fitness functionality. Now Apple is telling me I would need to take two devices, instead of one. So it’s actually gotten more complicated, not less so.
When I go camping this weekend, I do not want to take my house with my tent.
That will probably not stop millions of people buying Apple Watches, but it will be a barrier to wider adoption. By tethering the Watch to the iPhone, Apple has trapped folks into the old paradigm, rather than breaking through to a new one.
I was speaking with a tech expert about this on Twitter — @thevirtualguy — and he pointed out that this was definitely a point of contention in his office yesterday. He also pointed out that for people that abandoned the iPhone for larger products, such as those from Samsung, are less inclined to buy an Apple Watch now.
But maybe this is exactly what Apple wants. Maybe Apple decided to tether all of the wireless functionality of the iWatch to the iPhone for “network effects” to force the Samsung-ites into going back to iPhones. In this case, it’s a terribly vindictive “feature.” Very Microsoft-like.
Clearly there are issues with packing radio, celluar and GPS functionality into the small form of the Apple Watch, but I think what we have here is an early, crippled product that will appeal to a medium-sized crowd of Apple fans and fashionistas who want to make their Apple statement and listen to free U2 albums. But it’s not putting Timex out of business any time soon.
That may come in time. But Apple has more work to do.
(Disclosure: The author owns Apple stock in a retirement account, having recommended it at the beginning of the year in the Rayno portfolio when it was 25% lower. He has also already squandered his kids college fun on iProducts.)