Like just about everyone else, I was breathlessly waiting for Apple’s big reveal yesterday. And with the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Pay, and the Apple Watch, the company delivered a big hunk of red meat for journalists and fan boys.
After watching the event and checking up on the various introductions, I’ll call this a very good day for Apple, easily batting 3-for-4. In my view, the only miss came on the Apple Watch, which carried such high expectations for rescuing an entire category that no actual device could possibly have lived up to them.
First, the good stuff.
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are pretty much what the leaks predicted: large and even larger iPhones with a new design and very good specs. While obviously not ground-breaking, they bring Apple’s design prowess and fit-and-finish to the world of big smartphones and phablets.
I predict they will sell very well. Ironically, though, I think the premium iPhone 6 Plus will sell better in developing markets where people will try use it as both a phone and a tablet, while the iPhone 6 will dominate in richer markets like the U.S., where many people already have tablets and don’t need a phablet to do everything.
As promised, though, I’ll do my part to mess with that equation and ditch my iPad Air tablet and my iPhone 5 smartphone to rely exclusively on an iPhone 6 Plus. I’ll be ordering one on September 12 and will report back not just on how well it works, but also on how well it replaces those larger and smaller devices. Heck, the new curved edges make the iPhone 6 look like a (slightly) smaller iPad anyway.
So far, no huge surprises, the Apple rumor mill did an excellent job of preparing us for the new iPhones. But Apple Pay, the company’s mobile payment system, was not so widely expected. The big coup here, though, isn't so much the technology — that’s been around for a while in many forms — as the partners Apple has lined up.
Echoing how iTunes once cracked the nut of getting the record companies to accept online music, Apple Pay has brought on board the big credit card companies like Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, as well as major retailers like Wallgreens, Whole Foods, Macy’s, and Target. Will that be enough to jumpstart the mobile payments category where Google Wallet and many others have failed? Time will tell, but better security procedures could make it a desirable option for consumers freaked out by continual retail breaches at chains ranging from Target, Michael’s Stores, Nieman Marcus, P.F. Chang’s, Goodwill Industries, and now Home Depot. The only problem, of course, is that Apple’s system doesn't seem compatible with other systems, continuing the market fragmentation that could hold back the entire segment.
And then there’s the Apple Watch (what most people expected to be called the iWatch). Technologically, it seems pretty impressive, with the sapphire display the iPhone 6 didn’t get, wireless charging, and a whole new user interface based on twisting the crown.
But here’s the thing — I don’t really care how cool the tech is. I’m not wearing one of these things. Sure, the Apple Watch will come in two sizes and three models when it ships next year, but they’re all thick and clunky and… square. The form factor resembles a semi-modern interpretation of a Casio calculator watch from the 1980s.
I’m perfectly willing to stuff a truly giant smartphone in my pocket, because I can hide it in that pocket. What I wear on my wrist is on display pretty much all the time, and it has to be either completely unobtrusive or a perfect expression of my personal design philosophy, whatever that is. The Apple Watch is neither.
Not yet, anyway.
Here’s my prediction — the first iteration of the Watch will appeal to fan boys and girls, tech geeks, and early adopters, not mainstream types (no matter what Colin Neagle says). But Apple will learn a lot about what people might actually do with these things, and improve the software as it goes along. While it seems clever, the company is making a lot of untested assumptions on how smartwatches will be used in the real world.
Apple will work on the hardware, too, gradually broadening the line and making thinner designs I’d be happy to see on wrist all day. Today’s iPhones are a lot sleeker than the 2007 originals. Who knows, maybe one day Apple will even let real watchmakers make cases for Apple Watch guts — now that could be pretty stylish.
According to the Acquity Group, some 25% of consumers plan to own a smartwatch in the next five years. That sounds like just about the right time frame to me.