Apple Rings and Watches

There is, undoubtedly, a lot of truth and clever insight in Craig Hockenberry’s piece, Wearing Apple. (Please read it; it’s definitely worth the time.)

But first, some issues I had with his argument about why a watch seems out-of-the-question.

The Competition

He notes:

…the companies that dominated the music player and mobile phone markets were making complete crap prior to Apple’s arrival. Granted, there are a lot of cheap and crappy watches on the market, but they’re not remotely interesting to the demographic that buys Apple products. And to many people, a fine timepiece is more about status than technology.

I’m not aware of many Apple users that wear “fine timepieces”. (Rolex is the only company that springs to my mind if I even try to think of companies that build fine timepieces. It’s possible it’s just me…but I live in a den of Apple users, and I don’t hear them talking about fine watches, either.)

I don’t see what would be wrong with Apple entering this market from a brand/status perspective. Apple would trample the existing players.

The Customer

Then, Hockenberry seems to argue against his own point:

Who is going to buy this wearable technology?

Trends are always set by the younger generation. Especially with clothing, jewelry and other items that appeal to a demographic with a lot of expendable income.

So Apple’s product needs to compete with high-quality, luxury brands…yet youth will define this market? I don’t see any of the younger generation wearing luxury watches, or watches of any sort.

The earlier point and this one can’t both be true. (For the record: it’s this one that’s true. Youth will define the market. Again, another reason why an Apple watch doesn’t seem out of the question to me.)

The Ring

Then I think he gets on track, in a big way:

The first step is to start looking at things from Apple’s point-of-view. I ask myself, “What problems can a wearable device solve?”

As I think about answers to that question, it leads me to the conclusion that Jony Ive and crew aren’t looking solely at the wrist. Wearable technology could take cues from other kinds of jewelry: rings and necklaces, for example.

I do agree that a ring is—conceptually—closer to what Apple will release than a watch. I’ve always envisioned Apple’s watch as having a minimal screen and almost no interactivity; a subordinate, an adjunct, to your phone, and certainly not the combination TV/GameBoy/mini-iPhone that people seem to think it will be.

But Hockenberry doesn’t mention something I think is important: an Apple ring is scarily close to a punchline.

Asking customers to wear a ring instead of a watch is a big deal. Now, it seems like it’s asking less. But really, it’s asking more; a lot more. Asking a non-ring-wearer to become a ring-wearer (and most male youth are not ring-wearers) is asking them to almost jump to a different demographic.

A ring is also more personal than a watch. Rings are to identify my marital status, my membership in a club (my high school class, my Super Bowl-winning team.) People feel close to Apple…but that close? By contrast, wearing a watch is…wearing a watch. No biggie. (For what it’s worth, in a different but not entirely dissimilar situation, Disney is asking people to wear a watch.)

I’d like an Apple ring. It satisfies exactly what I want from an Apple watch. But…it’s asking customers to make a big leap.



What’s really missing from the iPad.

There is, of course, endless speculation about what the iPad should have had, and why it will be an abject failure because of [your favorite feature]’s absence. “Video camera” seems to be the #1 cited omission. No doubt videoconferencing via iPad would be nice, but hey, I don’t even know that many people that video chat, so I’m not sure how something used by so few people could be considered essential.

There’s one feature omission that everyone seems to have forgotten about: multi-user.

Without multi-user capability, whose bookmarks are going to be in Safari, mine, or my wife’s? Whose usernames and passwords will get saved? Whose schedule will be in the calendar app? Contacts in the Address Book? You get the idea. Without multi-user, most of the built-in apps will be, by necessity, useless, filled with data that’s not yours.

The good news is that multi-user requires just a software upgrade; maybe we’ll see it when iPhone 4.0 comes along. Until then, my iPad will be used about 50% less than it should be.

Visionary or Pragmatic?

Concerning John Gruber’s Apple’s 1997 Tablet Concept Video post, Gruber makes the point that Apple used to make concept videos about tablet computing; now, they make for-real tablet computers. I’m not sure if he’s just making a cheeky comment about the rapid advancement of technology, or about the very nature of prototypes and the kinds of products Apple should be producing. But there’s something significant here: Steve Jobs’s Apple would never produce a video like Knowledge Navigator.

When I was a product manager at Apple in 1994-1996, MRDs (marketing requirement documents) nearly always started with the prose equivalent to Knowledge Navigator, something similar to:

Richard Sanderson sits down in his leather chair, the wave of heat from his crackling fireplace cutting through the morning chill. Richard lightly touches the screen on his Apple SuperMac 3000 and it comes to life with a soft glow.

“Something worrying you?” asks the concerned voice coming from the computer, its facial recognition capable of detecting subtle changes in its operator’s emotions.

“Oh, nothing much,” says Richard. “I’m just behind in my bill paying, and I have a presentation due this Friday on delinquency rates in New York City.”

“Hmmm…I may be able to help you with those,” says the computer’s soothing voice.

I’m not kidding: that’s what they actually sounded like, more resembling the build-up in a Harlequin romance than a technical spec. Why write like this? For one, it conjured up undeniably seductive portraits of what new technology could not just look like, but feel like. But more importantly—and self-servingly—these MRDs created their own market by hypothesizing a strawman use-case that no one wanted to refute. I mean, how could there not be a market for this product? Did you not read that description? Are you seriously telling me you don’t want to be Richard Sanderson?

But at the end of my Apple tenure, it was clear this was falling out of favor. After the failures of QuickDraw GX, 3D, Apple Guide, Newton, OpenDoc, Copland, et al, it had become abundantly clear that the Richard Sandersons of the world weren’t Apple’s savior: in fact, it had become quite clear that he didn’t exist at all.

Steve Jobs is described as a visionary. Yet he doesn’t do what most people assume a “visionary” would do, e.g., gaze twenty years into the future. He’s a visionary by way of looking into the very near future—two to three years out—and realizing what’s possible with the technology that will very-soon-be-available. He recognizes the moment at which toy becomes breakthrough, and can sense when it’s near.

“These MP3 players suck,” one could imagine him saying in early 2000. “But if we crack the two reasons they suck–low storage capacity and bad user interface–they won’t. These are problems we can solve, and soon.” And here comes the iPod. Not a do-it-all super assistant, like the Newton tried to be. Just an MP3 player, transformed from technology trick into a solution to people’s real needs.

Steve Jobs wins less because he’s a visionary, more because he’s a pragmatic.

You should buy a Mac

A lot of people ask me about what kind of computer to buy. Unless you have to have a PC, a Mac is the way to go, for the following reasons:

  • You don’t have to worry about viruses, nor install virus software. (At least until someone figures out how to write an effective Mac virus, which hasn’t happened yet.)
  • Macs don’t come with a hundred useless pieces of software pre-installed on them. Nor useless stickers on the outside.
  • The Mac applications for managing photos, music, and movies, are all the best of their kind.
  • The automated backup system, Time Machine, is fantastic, and anyone who’s storing their photos and movies on a computer needs to be concerned about backup.
  • Apple hardware tends to be better designed. And since everything comes from one manufacturer, it works better together.
  • Integration with the iPhone and iPods is better and more seamless.
  • If you’re near an Apple Store, the support and assistance you receive at the Genius Bars is amazing.

Macs are more expensive than typical PCs, but for all of the reasons listed above, I believe the total cost of ownership to be lower. And they’re definitely more fun to use.

That said, Macs aren’t perfect. Mac reliability is good, but not excellent. You get a year warranty on a Mac purchase; during that year, you can decide to purchase a two year extension, called AppleCare, typically for around $300. If it’s a Mac that you rely on, I recommend it. If it’s a Mac that isn’t “mission critical” and you can afford to be without it when it’s down, it isn’t as important that you get the extended warranty. Especially if you’ve been making backups, which Macs do automatically if you have a second hard drive. But even then, the extended warranty isn’t a terrible idea. (The only clear-cut case where I wouldn’t get the warranty is if I didn’t expect to own the computer for three years.)

To give you some background: I have AppleCare on my work laptop because I can’t afford to be without it long. Plus, it would cost $2500 to replace, so the $350 warranty is a drop in the bucket. On my wife’s laptop (which cost $1100), we don’t have AppleCare. If her laptop died, that would be unfortunate, but 1) she can afford to be without a computer for a few days, and 2) we’re keeping it constantly backed up, so even if we had to buy a new computer, it would be easy to restore it. Extended warranties are always difficult decisions…

If you’re going to be keeping anything important on your Mac (your music and photos count as important items), I highly recommend getting an external drive that can act as your Time Machine backup drive. The $200 or less that it should cost you is completely worth it in the case that your computer’s main drive fails. (In the best case, that can take hours to fix; in the worst–and most common–case, you’ll lose all of your data. You don’t want that to happen.) At a minimum, your Time Machine drive should be at least as big as your internal drive; 2 to 3x larger is better, but not required.

The iPhone’s “Killer App.” (Boy, do I hate that term.)

John Gruber linked to a Paul Thurrott post this morning about the apparently delusional Windows Mobile team (prediction: Microsoft will buy RIM within 24 months). What caught my attention, however, was Thurrott’s assertion that the iPhone App Store is “arguably the biggest innovation of the iPhone.” We saw a similar sentiment expressed earlier in the week at USA Today.

No doubt the App Store is great, but I can’t say that any app I’ve purchased is truly important to me. NetNewsWire comes the closest, but still, the iPhone’s “killer app” (god, do I hate that overused term) is its usability. Nothing else comes close. I don’t know anyone that has purchased an iPhone because of the App Store; I know perhaps a hundred people that have purchased one because of its usability. (With Apple aggressively marketing iPhone games, perhaps this will change in the future; regardless, it hasn’t happened yet.)

The other mis-read of the iPhone’s success comes down in the comments, where several people assert that the iPhone is “consumer-targeted,” with the implication that if the Windows Mobile team had simply trained its sights on that “niche” market, of course they’d have something as usable as the iPhone. There are exactly two things wrong with that assertion.

The first is that the Windows Mobile team would know how to develop a consumer product. Here’s something people don’t get: developing consumer software is harder than developing enterprise software. If you’re developing enterprise software, you make money every time the customer calls you with a question. If you’re developing consumer software, you lose money when they call you. That simple fact turns the product development equation on its head: you have to make a product that completely explains itself to people who don’t want to read a manual or take a training class. That Apple developed a smart phone that my mother can use is something that the Windows Mobile team could not have pulled off.

The second is that the iPhone is, in fact, “consumer-targeted.” It’s not: it’s “user-targeted.” Not the same thing. The Windows Mobile team will likely never admit this to itself because it’s easier to accept their fate if they think that they and Apple are aiming at different targets. But iPhone 1.0 wasn’t a product unsuitable for the enterprise by design; iPhone 1.0 was unsuitable for the enterprise simply because a couple of features were left out. That those features have now been added (and that another feature–a keyboard–I suspect will be added in the future) betray the idea that the iPhone is merely “consumer-targeted,” something that will be abundantly clear when iPhone beats Windows Mobile–and probably RIM, too–in that market.