If you were looking forward to the Apple Watch 2.0 in 2016, a well-known analyst has just thrown a nice bucket of ice-cold water on the idea.
According to Apple Insider, KGI Securities analyst and Apple oracle Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple is working on an Apple Watch “S” update, one that will leave the current design intact, but refresh numerous internal components. As a result, the next Apple Watch could be faster, have a longer battery life and a slightly better screen, but look exactly like the last one.
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Incremental changes should come as no surprise in a market as immature as smartwatches. Littered with the corpses of failed wearables, it’s a market that merits a cautious approach. And perhaps Apple’s position as the big fish in a small pond of wearable competitors probably gives it the right to set the tone. Even as Apple’s somewhat halting approach to Apple Watch updates frustrates those who’ve come to expect bold, yearly updates on major product categories (like the iPhone), it would be foolish to mess with the design and major functions when you can incrementally build, quarter over quarter, to a sustainable business. Right?
For 12 months, that’s meant one major software update (watch OS 2, the one that delivered many long-promised features), some new materials and lots and lots of stylish band options.
And it’s not enough.
I like the Apple Watch. I’ve been wearing one on and off for a year and appreciate the excellent forward-leaning design (yes, I feel like I’m wearing a watch from the future) and the ever-present notifications and alerts. It really does free me from pulling my iPhone out of my pocket and, even to this day, I get “wow” or “cool” comments from TSA personnel and ticketing agents when I check into flights with the Apple Watch.
The problem is, I’m the person Apple could always count on to buy an Apple Watch. Not just because I’m a tech geek, but because I’m a middle-aged guy who grew up wearing watches.
If Apple (and other wearable manufacturers) want to grow beyond people like me, it has to make a number of key changes sooner, as opposed to later.
Okay, Apple, we get it: You’re fashion-conscious and know how to convince upscale designers into making gorgeous Apple Watch bands. Most recently Apple and Hermes partnered to offer yet even more colors!
Apple knows better than anyone that colors do not equal innovation. I wonder, though, if they understand that there’s a limit to how far you can push the Apple Watch as an upscale fashion accessory.
Leaving aside the 18K gold edition, Apple actually appears to have a lot of choice in the Apple Watch line. Near the top, you have the gorgeous, $1,100+ watches, with chrome link, Milanese and wrap-around Hermes leather band options.
At the other end of the spectrum, you find, thanks to a recent $50 price drop, the $299 anodized-aluminum Sport with either fluromaster or woven nylon bands. (For the record, I’m tired of people calling things “Sport.” The name brings with it an inferred pressure to be active. Maybe some people just want to wear a watch.)
There’s also a whole bunch of watch material and band color options, as well as a healthy collection of customizable watch faces.
Apple should go further
I’m willing to accept that Apple will not introduce a redesigned Apple Watch now — and maybe not at any point this year — but there is one more body option they should consider because I think it could help them take the Apple Watch outside the fashion realm and, perhaps, into a space first pioneered by Swatch.
The next Apple Watch material should be a polymer (yes, basically a super-strong plastic).
There are a number of obvious benefits. First of all, the cheaper material will allow Apple to price what I like to call the Apple Watch Lite at $199. As most Apple historians will recall, $199 is what the late Steve Jobs called the magic price for technology.
A polymer body would also allow for an endless number of through-and-through body colors. If you scratch the Apple Watch Lite, you won’t see unsightly metal, just more of the same color. It would also allow Apple to introduce patterned fluromaster bands and have the pattern carry through to the watch. Just think, a Hello Kitty Apple Watch.
A lower price should attract more Apple Watch customers. To bring in the customers who have never worn a watch, though, Apple will need to do at least, uh, one more thing.
As part of this material and price change, Apple should introduce a whole new set of design partners, ones less concerned with fashion and more tapped into culture, especially teen couture. This was the Swatch approach, which, to some extent, still works today.
Bands, bodies and, more importantly, Apple Watch Lite faces would obviously start pre-loaded with faces to match the band and body designs. Imagine a kid Apple Watch with a Snoopy face, or a One Direction watch with the four remaining band members dotting the four corners of a watch face. Connecting Apple Watch design and interfaces to teen cultural touchstones would not only put the Apple Watch in demand for the Snapchat set, but turn each new design partner release into a cultural event.
There are a few other things I would like Apple to do right now in lieu of a redesign.
Rethink digital touches. The idea of doodling to someone or sending them my heartbeat was fun for a few weeks, but it’s been months since I’ve used them. Apple should either make digital touches more visible on the watch or replace the functionality with a Snapchat function that lets you doodle or put text on watch face screen shots (or photos pulled from your iPhone) and send them along to friends who also have Apple Watch or those who don’t (just make it a Snapchat snap or iMessage).
Dump the app home screen. The more apps that appear in Apple Watch’s random app bubble cluster, the harder it gets to find anything. Most of the time, you’re not launching apps anyway.
The Apple Watch is at its best when telling time and delivering notifications, alerts and directions. They all pretty much happen on their own. Even directions, which work as a perfect complement to live navigation on the iPhone, launches and runs without me touching the watch. Perhaps there’s simply no need for an app home screen. I suggest replacing it with a better way of managing all those notifications.
Later this year or next, we will finally get a more radical Apple Watch redesign. I’m sure it will be beautiful and I will want it. In the meantime, though, it’s time for Apple to use its wearable market pole position to make some real market leadership moves.
If Apple hits the gas by offering one new material and teen-and-culture-centric options, the only way they’ll see competition is in their rear-view mirror.