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Apple fails to make compelling case for expensive Watch

Apple Watch x3

Apple added a bit more substance to its Apple Watch announcement, ahead of its impending launch, at an event in California. However the unique qualities expected by many to significantly differentiate this Apple wearable from the many others already announced were conspicuously absent.

We were reminded that the Apple watch is rectangular. That might not have been noteworthy a year ago, but since then there have been a number of smartwatches launched using Android Wear that have round faces. Of course this is less practical when all our other screens are rectangular, but a wearable needs to be as much clothing as technology, and we’re used to round watches.

We then received a recap of the features and benefits of the watch, which include the ability to sync with your (i) phone to make calls, received notifications, etc. It also doubles as a fitness tracker and Apple CEO Tim Cook actually said it’s like having a coach on your wrist, or words to that extent, and then went off on a bizarre tangent about a supermodel taking it for a run in Africa. You press a side button to bring up Siri and double tap to evoke Apple Pay. You can also use it for wireless tricks like boarding planes and opening hotel rooms, in theory.

But the problem is that none of this is exceptional. When Apple launches something we’ve come to expect a paradigm shift, a redefinition of the category, a wake-up call to the rest of the tech industry to raise their game. That hasn’t happened with the watch, which feels more like Apple not wanting to be left out of a nascent category than an attempt to define it. In fact the most impressive launch of the event was a new, thinner, lighter, MacBook.

“Apple Watch begins a new chapter in the way we relate to technology and we think our customers are going to love it,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We can’t wait for people to start wearing Apple Watch to easily access information that matters, to interact with the world, and to live a better day by being more aware of their daily activity than ever before.”

“Conceived, designed and developed as a singular product, Apple Watch merges hardware and software like never before,” said Jony Ive, Apple’s senior VP of Design. “In Apple Watch, we’ve created three beautifully curated collections with a software architecture that together enable unparalleled personalization in a wearable device.”

The Apple Watch will go on sale on 24 April in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, UK and the US, with the full-fat version starting at $549 and rising to $1,099. If that’s not too rich for your blood the 18-carat gold Apple Watch Edition starts at $10k.

The case for the smartwatch in general has yet to be made. If it’s a dumb accessory that you buy to save yourself the torturous inconvenience of retrieving your phone from your pocket then it needs to be cheap. If it’s a standalone communication device then it needs to offer sufficient functionality to tempt us to replace our phone with it.

Apple was expected to successfully address at least one of those scenarios via something clever like a gesture UI or new NFC-driven ecosystem. Not only did it fail to do so, it has launched an expensive smartwatch that already looks less appealing than some round ones. Apple will probably still sell millions to brand loyalists, but on current evidence the Apple Watch is unlikely to be that mass market hit the iPod, iPhone and iPad were.

Telecoms.com’s news coverage is sponsored by NEC.

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