While we got to see a number of features and a ton of variations of the Apple Watch at this week’s event in Cupertino, there was also quite a bit of info Apple chose not to divulge despite the presence of hundreds of interested techies. The most important was probably pricing: we know that the Apple Watch will start at $349, but we have no idea how high prices will go for the higher-end models.
The Apple Watch Edition collection, the oddly-named high-end of the line-up, includes both yellow and rose 18-karat gold variations of Apple’s new wearable. The screen is coated with sapphire crystal. When I hear specs like those, I don’t think of a $500 or $750 watch. These are the watches that come to mind:
The Apple Watch is competing for the same wrist space as watches that go for thousands of dollars. While Apple sells computers in that price range — try maxing out the specs of a Mac Pro on the Apple Store site — that’s not how Apple really brings home the bacon. With the iPhone, Apple’s best-selling device, the company makes a huge profit by targeting the lower-volume, high-margin end of the market.
As Andreessen Horowitz analyst Benedict Evans recently tweeted, it most certainly looks like the watch market is a good fit for that strategy:
It also seems that Apple isn’t just cranking out a pretty-looking model coated with expensive materials and assuming that rich people will buy them: it’s differentiating the experience of owning an Apple Watch Edition device. As Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue reported on the day of Apple’s event, those willing to splurge on a premium model won’t just be plugging their watch into a MagSafe adapter on their nightstand like the rest of us:
The fanciest model, the gold Apple Watch Edition, comes in a gorgeous jewelry box — which doubles as a charger. The back of the box has a Lightning connector, and the inside of the box has the watch’s magnetic round charger pad, standing vertically. So as you retire each night, you can just lay your gold watch into its case and let it charge.
To be clear, the watch market is an entirely different game than gadgets most techies are familiar with. For a long time, we’re going to hear complaints that the Apple Watch is expensive “for what you get,” as if specs are going to matter at all in this space.
While I hate to make predictions about products that haven’t launched yet, my gut feeling is that there will be a big divide on spending on the Apple Watch between the low- and high-end based purely on aesthetics. People buying the $349 Apple Watch will tend to stick to the band that comes with their entry-level watch and mock those who “fall for” the high prices attached to the more expensive bands (as happens with iPhone cases today). Meanwhile, those willing to buy the more expensive models will pony up for several bands for different looks and situations.
This hands-on preview by “watch guy” (an understatement, as you will see if you click through to the post) Benjamin Clymer gives you an idea of the thought Apple put into making the Apple Watch a competitive luxury accessory:
And that leads me to my next point. Apple absolutely, positively, indisputably NAILED its straps and bracelets. In addition to offering a bevy of options from leather to fluoroelastomer to link bracelets to Milanese, it is here that you really see how much attention Apple was paying to the way people wear watches, and the how bad existing options were.
The Apple Watch can take an integrated strap or bracelet, or one with wire lugs. It totally changes the look of the watch, and swapping them couldn’t be any easier. Changing straps is one thing, but the attention to detail on the straps and bracelets themselves is downright incredible, and when I mentioned above that nothing comes close in this price range, it is very visible when talking about straps.
Again, Apple has paid excruciating attention to detail in the design and wearability of the Apple Watch. In many cases, its offerings make what is coming out of Switzerland (or Asia) look amateurish. But, let me remind you that I am looking at this object as just that, the physical form, not in the interface. If this was simply a digital watch, I could say it’s a well designed, well-executed one. But it’s not a watch, and that’s where I think it missed the mark.
The potential upside to the high-end Apple Watch models will be the most exciting thing to watch for in 2015. And I’m not even talking about international markets! As you may recall, the “China and India love gold!” talking point was brought up incessantly last year, even before we had official confirmation that a gold iPhone was even happening. As Taiwan-based former Appler Ben Thompson succinctly put it:
While luxury watch makers are acting cocky in the wake of Apple’s announcement, the fact of the matter is that no watchmaker in history has ever had so much hype behind their entire line-up, let alone a single model. With Marc Newson officially on their design team, one has to wonder: what’s the ceiling on how much Apple can charge for an Apple Watch?
I spent a lot of time talking about aesthetics in this post. For a better idea of how the Apple Watch will actually work, check out our hands-on in the video below: