Apple Watch Strategy

The introduction of the Apple Watch at the Flint Center at Sept. 9th was both similar and different from past product announcements. Some have seem this as a weakness or change within Apple. I see it however as simply a realization and adaptation of the unique challenges Apple faces, as it enters a product category that has been an extremely obvious target, but has proved elusive for both Google and Samsung.

Fashion

Fashion was very much emphasized at the event. In particular, many fashion journalists were invited to the Flint Center to attend the event. You can also see this in the way they introduced the Apple Watch. They almost immediately went to Jony Ive’s video which, as always, focused a lot on the design aspects of the product.

Rather than make the fashion journalists bored stiff with technical details or what features the watch can perform, they went straight to the appearance and feel of the product.

This clearly shows that Apple has placed a very high emphasis on fashion, probably because they hope that will be a strong driver of sales.

Although Apple is a very, very strong brand, its ability to attract fashion conscious customers and to get the distribution channels to behave according to Apple’s wishes is untested. This will be a very large challenge for them.

Developers

The description of product features was done by Kevin Lynch, former Adobe CTO and current vice president of technology at Apple. It was very extensive and they demoed a lot of applications. At the end of Kevin’s talk, he also went into WatchKit, the API for notifications.

Some say that this description lacked focus. That they simply showed a lot of apps without a clear message of what the the unique purpose of Apple Watch was. It is true that the positioning of Kevin’s talk was unusual since it actually preceded Tim Cook’s description of the three pillar features.

The most rational way to think about this is that Apple was showing off what the Apple Watch was capable of, as a way to excite third party developers to create new and exciting apps. That is, the emphasis of Kevin’s talk was not about us but about developers.

Back when the iPhone was introduced, Apple had not prepared an SDK for third-party development, and the App Store had not even been invented. The power of third-party developers to extend and to bring value to the platform had not been fully realized. Fast forward to today, the situation is totally different. Apple recognizes that developers are vital and indeed the key to getting mass adoption of the Apple Watch. In fact, developers are more important than any focused marketing message that Apple may come up with.

Developers are much more important now. Apple obviously and correctly decided that instead of them dictating how the product should be used, they should just lay out all the stuff on the table and let the developers choose what they want to use. Of course Apple added some great features like the taptic engine and the heart rate monitor (which I think is much more capable than the tiny ones that are on Google Wear devices). I think however that Apple realizes that these will be most powerful when they are integrated into third-party apps which, for example, can combine them with social networks.

What this suggests is that Kevin Lynch’s presentation was very much directed to the developer community. Apple is probably counting on developers to expand the Apple Watch platform, and giving them the information that they need as early on as possible.

Mass Market Appeal

Another rather unusual thing that Apple did for the current introduction is that they fed the hype. For example, they let ABC News’ David Muir in backstage after the introduction for an exclusive interview, and naturally ABC News hyped it the previous day.

They also used very strong words like “historical” and Tim Cook has repeatedly mentioned that this event marks a turning point for Apple. The rational explanation for Apple itself fueling the hype engine is that Apple felt that it was important that as many people as possible knew about the Apple Watch on day one.

This suggests that instead of following the usual technology adoption life cycle (enthusiasts -> early adopters -> early majority -> late majority -> laggards) and initially target early adopters, Apple plans to jump start at the early majority.

In fact, that is kind of what happened to the iPad. The iPad didn’t have much of an early adopter phase and uptake was extremely rapid. The iPad may have taught Apple that at its current scale and market position, you don’t have to follow the classical “crossing the chasm” theme; you can take the whole market in a single gulp.

I’m not sure why Apple senses the need to attack the mass market from the beginning. Maybe it’s simply because it thinks it can. Maybe it’s to go so far ahead before Google has a chance to catch up. Maybe it’s related to the fashion push. Maybe it’s because they thing that the Apple Watch is a prerequisite to some other stuff that they have in preparation. I don’t know.

One thing is sure. If they want to keep this hype level as high as it is, it will be a huge challenge for even Apple.

Strategy

Instead of lambasting Apple because the presentation of the Apple Watch did not closely follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs the Master, it is more constructive to try to understand why Apple chose to diverge from the well trodden path. Of course, this assumes that Tim Cook and his team of truly top-class executives know what they are doing, but that isn’t exactly a leap of faith.

Looking at the sequence and structure of the Apple Watch introduction as I have above, it is clearly obvious that Apple’s primary concern in the fashion aspect. And secondly, it’s about the developers. It’s about what developers will do with the graphics, the sensors and the taptic engine on the phone.

The features that Apple Watch may have outside of simply telling the time, the “reason to exist” as many critics have commented, are at this point only the third priority. That is clearly what the structure of the presentation tells us.

Judging from the presentation structure and sequence, that is Apple’s strategy for marketing the Apple Watch.

It was not a mistake. It was most likely very intentional.