5 Years of Watch

The launch, impact, & future of Apple’s daring timepiece

ve been an Apple Watch user on and off for a long time now. Most days I do wear it, but there are other days where the feeling of having a full blown computer on my wrist is too much to handle. The always connected nature of the product makes it hard to feel totally in my element, so that’s why I don’t wear it all the time, so in the evenings I usually take it off a couple hours before bed. But the playfulness, ease of use, and convenience of the watch keeps me putting it on each morning.

As of April 24th, the Apple Watch has been on sale for 5 years. Forgive me, for this email is a little long, but I’ve been working on it for a few weeks. And I think about this stuff a lot, so wanted to share some of my thoughts about what the watch means to Apple, what it means to users, and what it means to me.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

The Launch

I remember the run up to the Apple Watch reveal event clearly. At the time, I was working in the marketing department at Spareparts (many of you will remember was a chain of watch/sunglass stores, which has since went under ). So my attention was paid to the watch industry every day because of my job. At that point in time, a watch was rumoured to be in development for years at Apple, but there was no real leaks as to what the product was really going to be like. We didn’t know what it was going to do, what it was going to be for, or how it would work. We didn’t even know if it would have a screen! Personally, I thought it was going to be more of a Fitbit style bracelet with maybe some LED numbers. Something simple.

But I knew that if Apple decided to enter the watch market properly, they were really going to shake things up. When Apple enters a new market, it’s not usually a good idea to bet against them. After witnessing Apple succeed so massively in so many industries — digital music sales, mp3 players, and most of all, smartphones — I knew from their track record that if they were planning to enter the watch market, they were going to go all in, and it would probably be a bad idea to bet against them.

At this point in time, people were deeply skeptical if Apple could continue to innovate after Steve Jobs’ death. It had been three years since he died, and though Apple had released massive hits in that time like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, they had yet to come out with any brand new product category which would prove that Apple could, indeed, innovate without Steve.

On a chilly September day back in 2014, I left work to go to a coffee shop and watch the annual iPhone keynote event. After announcing the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Tim Cook said he had one more thing to announce:

We’ve been working incredibly hard for a long time on an entirely new product, and we believe this product will redefine what people expect from its category. I am so excited, and I am so proud to share it with you this morning. It is the next chapter in Apple’s story. And here it is.

Keeping in mind that we knew next to nothing about what was coming, the two minute Apple Watch reveal video they played next was astounding.

Turns out the watch was not just a plain fitness tracker. It was an actual watch! A fancy one! With a full colour display that could show any kind of watch face you wanted! Even a Micky Mouse face! Different band options! Multiple finishes like aluminum, stainless steel, and even solid gold! A heart rate monitor! Siri! Apps!

It was so bold, and so beyond what I was expecting, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt in that moment. The Apple Watch felt like it was going to be the product that ushered us into the future.

And the implications for Apple were staggering. Apple was morphing from a consumer electronics company to a fashion company before our very eyes. There was a lot of questions. How were they going to change the stores to support sales of such a customizable product? A watch is something people need to try on before buying. And gosh was the solid gold option expensive… how in the world would they price such a thing? Analysts were predicting it could cost upwards of $10,000. If it did, would Apple be able to create a premium enough experience to sell such a product in the notoriously busy Apple Stores?

Well, we had to wait a little while to actually find out. From that September reveal, it would be a six month wait until the product would be actually released.

The Impact

Fast-forward to now, and the Apple Watch as now been on customers’ wrists for over five years. A lot of people’s wrists, granted, as they now sell more watches than Rolex, Swatch, and the entire Swiss watch industry combined. Not insignificant, because the Watch has an average selling price of about $450, a price much higher than what most people were used to paying before the Apple Watch came out.

(How did that $10,000 gold Apple Watch sell? Not well enough to continue making them. The gold model was discontinued only a year after launch.)

In typical Apple style, with each passing year they’ve launched a new version of the watch. And with each new iteration, the product has slowly improved. And though the watch still looks generally the same as it did when it launched, all those those small changes have added up to create a product that’s massively improved from the original. Features like cellular connectivity, waterproofing, advanced heart-rate monitoring called electrocardiogram, and significant computing speed improvements have all added up to create a product that is vastly better today than it was just 5 years ago.

Despite all these improvements, overall, the watch has stayed the same more than it’s changed. It looks basically the same, and it works the same as when it came out. It’s kept the same “squirkle” shape, though refined slightly and given a bigger display, it retains the same Industrial design language as when it was first released.

Iteration: that’s Apple’s secret sauce to success. It’s because they are able to launch something with a solid foundation and thought through ideas, and build on those ideas year after year after year. It’s through Apple’s commitment to slow iteration that their products become as good and popular as they do.

But what impresses me most about the Apple Watch and its new features it slowly gets each year is its ability to save more and more human lives with each new feature. Just Google “Apple Watch save lives” and discover dozens of news articles that have been written about how the watch has helped people in times of crisis. If you’re in a car accident and your phone is nowhere to be found, you can call an ambulance right from your watch. If you’re an elderly person who has fallen and is unconscious, the watch can tell what’s happened and call 911 for you. There’s countless people who have been warned of an irregular resting heart from their Apple Watch, went to their doctor, and found out that they have early signs of heart problems.

It’s through their commitment to slow and steady iteration that Apple has been able to add these lifesaving features to the Apple Watch. They have been able to create a great foundation so far, but the future is even brighter.

The Future

In the near term, we’re going to be seeing more and more health tracking features introduced. It’s been rumoured for a couple years that Apple’s been working on a way for the Apple Watch to measure your blood sugar levels without the need to draw blood, which would be amazing for people with diabetes. Sleep tracking is also heavily rumoured to be coming later this year with the Series 6 watch.

I’d personally like to see Apple think outside the box, and give the watch a new form factor. I think that a round or hexagon design would make the watch appeal to a lot more people. Additionally, Apple has a long way to go when it comes to actual watch faces. I’d love if they could hire some designers from the Swiss watch industry to help refine the actual time-telling aspect of the Apple Watch. And if a future version of the watch does get a round face, perhaps it would make it a bit easier for them to design more elegant faces.

They also really need to cut the Apple Watch’s ties with the iPhone. Even though you can set up a cellular data plan to your watch and use it away from your phone, you still need to use an iPhone to initially set it up when you first buy it. I think it’s just a matter of time until they can get all their ducks in a row and declare the Apple Watch’s independence from the iPhone.

Despite its success, the Apple Watch still has massive room for growth. According to this report, allegedly 16% of iPhone users have an Apple Watch, so with 100 million iPhone users in the US alone, that means the watch still has a huge market it has yet to fully tap into. Cutting ties with the iPhone would open up that market even further.

In the short term (2–3 years), technology can be pretty easy to predict. Things will get faster, slimmer, and better in various ways. But looking further ahead, even 5–10 years, the crystal ball becomes murkier. I mean who would have thought the iPhone would be what it is now back when it first came out almost 13 years ago. I’ve never been good at looking really far in the future and predicting what’s coming, but I think through iteration they can continue on the path they’ve carved to make the Apple Watch more an even more meaningful and better product.

So on the Apple Watch’s humble 5 year anniversary, it seems like it’s in a great place. I think it has a healthy future ahead of it and I for one can’t wait to see how what it looks like in 2025 or 2030. (Provided we still even have a society that can support technological progress of course, but that’s a conversation for another newsletter.)

What do you think?

Has the Apple Watch changed how you perceive Apple over the last 5 years? Has it lived up to it’s promises?

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Further Reading

Tweet thread: Apple Watch Designer Shares Development Tidbits on Device’s Fifth Anniversary

Hodinkee: In-Depth: The Apple Watch, Five Years In

Designer, writer, and illustrator from Vancouver. → garycolwell.net

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