Apple has pulled out all the stops with its new Apple Watch, as analysts debate whether it’s a tech gadget or a move into the world of fashion. Is the debate academic or does it teach us an important branding lesson?
Ever since Apple announced the upcoming release of their new Apple Watch, nary an hour ticks off the clock without someone, in one of the world’s 24 time zones, posting on whether the watch is Apple’s latest venture into the world of high tech or its first plunge into the high fashion market.
A Wall Street Journal article the day of the product announcement seemed to feel very strongly both ways. The headline read: Smartwatch Pushes Apple into High-End Fashion, while the first line of the article itself noted the new “smartwatch that blurs the lines between jewelry and gadgetry.”
So is it one? The other? Or a hybrid?
This truly is an important question. Apple is on the verge of becoming the world’s first company to sport a $1 trillion market value. It’s gotten there based on the degree of market share it won as a maker of portable computing and handheld devices that brings the entire world to one’s fingertips. So if the Apple Watch, with its built-in gadgetry to gauge everything from your heartbeat to the time in Hong Kong, is another entrant in a long line of high tech products, it means the company is sticking to its successful model.
But if it’s meant to be fashion statement, as well as a challenge to time-honored watchmakers such as Rolex, Cartier and Patek Philippe, then Apple’s branding is now branching out to conquer new worlds.
I would argue while Apple’s precise strategy cannot be known unless you’re sitting in the hallways of power in Cupertino, California, there is no contradiction here.
The concept of wearable technology is not entirely new. Anyone who’s ever taken an EKG or a stress test is familiar with the idea of strapping on a measuring device that can provide you with important information. A wristwatch, smart as it may be, is certainly less invasive and an item that almost everyone in the world wears.
Apple has a huge and loyal customer base that will almost automatically buy anything new that they manufacture. The Smart Watch opens the field to new customers, who may find Android phones and Windows laptops suit their computing needs better, but would willingly take a flier on a wristwatch that doesn’t require them to switch operating systems.
Jen Quinlan, vice president of marketing at the gesture recognition company Rithmio, sounded a cautionary note, saying that historically, high prices and low accuracy led to a 30% return rate and high product abandonment on wearables after six months. While she didn’t specifically relate to the Apple Watch, she did give some guidelines as to what parameters customers will need to make a wearable truly usable and desirable.
- Invisible – Not literally, but it has to intertwine so closely with fashion we won’t be able to distinguish them apart.
- Personalized – This is my thought, but the fact the Apple Watch comes with a wide variety of wristband options may be enough to accessorize it so it makes a fashion statement and people will wear it all the time.
- Seamless. Quinlan writes that one day, wearables may converge with connected homes. I think what she means is that when people approach their home with grocery bags in hand, instead of banging on the front door and hope that someone opens it before the bags split open… you can tap your own Smart Watch to unlock your Smart Lock and get inside solo to unload your groceries.
If companies can meet these needs, then the future for wearables is bright: “Never before has computing been small enough to be worn relatively comfortably around the clock on the body,” Quinlan concludes.
Might Apple Watch be the first device on the market to incorporate all of the above with a flick of a wrist?
Only time will tell.
Bottom Line Action Step: Always be cognizant of your unique identity and corporate branding.