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3 big surprises from the Apple Watch event

Apple watch availability
Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

The highly anticipated Apple Watch event brought some unexpected announcements involving new products and partnerships for Apple.


Apple fans expected to learn more about the Apple Watch during yesterday's announcement, but to the surprise of the audience, Apple had more to talk about at its Spring Forward event on Monday.

Apple bets on its retail stores to sell the Apple Watch

Apple's 453 retail stores give it an advantage in the smartwatch market. Apple has made its watch stand out with so many options and price points, starting at $349 with different styles, sizes, straps, finishes, and materials – even an 18-karat gold version starting at $10,000. But such a diverse product line doesn't lend itself to ecommerce sales. Given the complexity of choices, Apple's stores will be the consumers' starting point.

Apple's retail stores will attract Apple fans. But the Apple Watch out of the gate is lagging Android in the quantity of apps and software development flexibility. Very few Apple Watches have shipped to its community of app developers for building and testing apps. Apple has invested in building its own apps to make up for the shortfall, betting that proprietary apps with its high touch stores and loyal iPhone customer base will be enough to ship millions of Apple Watches this year while its independent app developers catch up.

According to Apple CEO Tim Cook, great third-party apps are yet to come. What he didn't say is that there is a learning curve to designing and building smartwatch apps.

Google defined the term "glanceable" for the smartwatch, and Apple picked up on it, calling its Watch apps "glances." Glanceable is the design attribute of a smartwatch app that delivers useful information to the wearer in just a glance at just the right time. If Apple understands glanceable, it understands that its developer community will deal with a learning curve before its third-party Apple Watch apps will start to drive sales.

Apple's new MacBook confirms that Microsoft Surface is a great idea

Apple introduced an incredibly thin, fanless MacBook with a 12-inch Retina Display and a redesigned trackpad and keyboard that starts at $1,299. Apple VP Phil Schiller said that the company relied on its mobile design expertise to build this latest MacBook. Right now, it's too expensive to compete with tablets, but it marks the blurring of the mobile device categories and the merging of use cases. The new MacBook is Apple's prettier and more expensive version of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

It's no secret that iPad growth has stalled. The iPad use case just overlaps with too many other devices. This new MacBook, at only 2 pounds with a 9- to 10-hour battery life and without a mechanical fan or disk drive, physically resembles an iPad with a keyboard to get work done. This MacBook will further cannibalize iPad sales. Count on continued blurring of the lines between smartphones, tablets, and Ultrabooks.

Apple's exclusive deal with HBO Now

Everyone has talked about Apple moving into television since Brian Williams interviewed Tim Cook early in 2013. Up until today, Apple's television offerings weren't very interesting or much different compared to its competitors. Apple TV offered just the same day-old, week-old, month-old, or last season's television content that consumers can stream using any Apple TV competitor like Roku, Google's Chromecast, or Amazon's Fire TV.

But now Apple TV is different, much different. The company has partnered with premium television content provider HBO in an exclusive deal to stream all HBO content past, present, and future for $14.99 per month. As an incentive to new users, Apple has dropped the price of Apple TV from $99 to $69. Cord cutters and shavers hooked on the current season of Game of Thrones and other HBO programs will love it. So will Apple and HBO. The HBO Now subscription price is about twice the $7 per month that cable companies pay per subscriber to HBO, as reported by the Atlantic.

It's long been rumored that HBO would break from its exclusive deals with cable and satellite TV companies in the first quarter of 2015 and introduce a standalone streamed product, including the current season's content that did not require a cable or satellite subscription. Why HBO chose to dive into the a la carte TV content business with Apple is obvious – with 25 million Apple TVs, Apple has a larger audience than Comcast, the largest cable company in the U.S., which has 22 million household subscribers.

Expect more new TV content from Apple, and more deals like the one with HBO for news, sports, reality TV, and movies.

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