Let me start by saying that I am a proud owner of a Pebble. Have had one for almost a full year and wear it every time I leave the house. I have lots of gadgets and believe that many help make life easier and less stressful when used right. I am also a hardcore Android user. Have used Android phones since the original G1 and carry the Nexus 7. But I don’t have anything against Apple or iOS and often recommend it to new smartphone shoppers.
So I was interested to follow the Apple Watch announcement and see Apple’s take on the smartwatch. I think they’ve missed the mark.
To start my thought, you have to understand what a smartwatch is. It’s an always on device that is always on your skin. Anything it does you will immediately and instantly notice. If it vibrates even a bit you’ll notice. I have my Pebble set to vibrate whenever a new message notification appears on my phone (email, text, ESPN update, etc but not App updates or the such). On normal days it may vibrate several times an hour. On bad days I have to turn off notifications.
Apple has made it very easy for others to disrupt your day through push notifications. On first thought this may seem great. Who doesn’t want to know every time a Facebook notification comes in or someone is thinking of you? But the issue is that you lose control of the responses. Unlike a phone, you can’t leave your watch in another room or turn down the volume. So you will get everything unless you turn off all notifications. That feels extremely overwhelming to me.
The other thing about smartwatches is that they are always with you. From when you get up to when you go to bed it’s right there on your wrist. Where you go, it goes. Battery life matters. My Pebble can easily get 5 to 7 days of battery life in real world use (I think the least I’ve had was a little over 3 days when I traveled overseas). A 1 day projected battery life means that there will be days when it goes dead on your wrist. That defeats the entire purpose of an always accessible device. It also means that you will need a charger every night for your phone, tablet and watch. This will be extremely inconvenient for travelers let alone those that only have two plugs by their bed.
In my mind, if a watch can’t run for at least 3 days on average it’s a non-starter. I can find time to charge a device as needed during any given two days but would like to have time to spare. Anything less and not only will my phone tether me to a wall at night but I have to carry too many cords anywhere I may happen to go. Not to mention that watches can’t use the same charging wires as phones because they can’t have anywhere water might penetrate (just think of needing to take it off every time you wash your hands). So you can’t share cords.
There is going to be an initial rush to buy the Apple Watch because it is a fascinating device. A lot of people who have $350 to spare and has never used a smartwatch will rush out to get one. But the word of mouth is going to bring it back to Earth after about 6 months. Battery is going to be the biggest issue. Design and cost is going to be tied for 2nd (it’s a polarizing look).
There are somewhere in the ballpark of 160M iPhones sold annually around the world. In the US there are around 35M active iPhone users. I think Apple is going to be doing great if they get 10% penetration in the US over the first year (3.5M units) and 5% penetration globally (8M units). Those would be massively disappointing numbers to Apple and analysts (many analysts project a low of 10M units and extremes max out around 40 to 60M units in 2015).