Tag Archives: apple

Apple Watch and the Retail Experience

Lots of criticism going around regarding Apple’s handling of the Watch launch in the Apple Retail stores. Seems many people are unhappy that Apple is forcing everyone to order online, rather than having stock of the watches in the physical stores for day one. “People who brave the lines and come to the Apple store in person should get first priority,” the thinking goes.

I completely understand this criticism. If there’s one thing I can’t stand about modern retail, it’s the tendency to not stock many of the items found on the web site. The whole point of coming into a store instead of just ordering online is to see the products and then walk out of the store with them. I get angry when I go into a store to see what an item looks like in person, only to be told that they don’t keep that particular item in stock at all.

Apple is, at least, stocking display versions of every model of Apple Watch in stores (including the gold Edition collection in some locations). So you can at least see what they look like and feel them in your hands before ordering online. But it’s still a drag to not be able to just buy the thing right there and walk out with it. It’s un-Apple like, to be sure.

Here’s the issue, though: Apple doesn’t have enough Watches. And it probably won’t until late summer. From all indications, there have been millions of preorders already, and the shipping times for most models slipped past the April 24th launch day in minutes.[1] That means there will likely be less than millions of watches ready for the 24th. Maybe even less than hundreds of thousands. Given that there are hundreds of Apple stores to stock (even just counting the initial launch countries) how does Apple keep enough stock in each store to satisfy what would have been crazy long lines, all while not knowing which models they would need in each store?

When it comes to iPhones or iPads, Apple has past data to figure out which stores need each individual model. How many Space Grey, how many Silver, how many Gold, etc. With Apple Watch, there are many more models to track, and zero data to inform which models should ship where.

As bad as it is to tell people who come into the store now that they will have to order online, the notion of having long lines on day one and sending most of those folks home with no Watch after hours of waiting is far worse.

One thing I learned from my time at Apple Retail is that it’s always better to set expectations early, rather than disappoint later down the line. If there is only going to be enough stock to give each store a couple dozen of each model (I suspect less than that for some models, given how fast many were pushed back to May), it’s better not to sell Apple Watch in the stores at all at this point. Don’t send the majority of people who are going to wait for hours in that line home with nothing.[2]

Angela Ahrendts seems to have made a very tough call here. She was handed a dilemma, and she chose the less painful of two terrible choices. In an ideal world, I’m sure she would have been happier to launch Apple Watch the way the stores always launch new Apple products. But given the situation, I can’t say I would have handled it differently.

The only other option would have been to wait to ship the Watch to anyone until Apple had enough stock to handle both online orders and in-person pickups. For all we know, Ahrendts argued for this, but can you imagine the press backlash if Apple started shipping in July instead of April?[3]

By late summer or fall, I’m certain Apple will be selling the Watch in all Apple stores just like all of Apple’s products. Make no mistake; Apple hasn’t lost its mind here, experimenting with evolving the retail division into some sort of Gateway model. It’s simply dealing with a temporary bad situation in the most fair way possible.[4]

When the Watch was announced, and people were still in speculation mode about how the Watch would be sold at retail, I had two strong opinions. First, that Apple would let us try the Watches on some time before launch day. And second, that Apple would sell all the models, including the Edition, in Apple Retail stores. They may sell the Edition at other fine jewelers as well, but there was no way they’d give up an opportunity to cut out the middle man and send customers to another store to buy a gold Watch. (Apple loves profit margins even more than it loves its customers.)

For this reason, I’m very confident that Apple will get Watches into the Apple stores to sell directly in person as soon as that’s feasible.

  1. I ordered my Watch with link bracelet at 3:01 am Eastern time, as soon as the iPhone app allowed me to. My order ships mid-May. I’m pretty certain no one will be getting a link bracelet on April 24th.  ↩

  2. I most definitely would have been one of the crazy people in line on day one, and I would have been sent home after hours of waiting when I found out that my Watch of choice (the link bracelet stainless steel) wasn’t going to be ready for day one. Personally, I prefer knowing that my Watch is coming sometime in mid-May. Saved me a long night of waiting for nothing.  ↩

  3. As it is, people are already mocking Tim Cook for shipping in April, when he said that Apple Watch would ship “early in 2015”. Personally, I’m dumbfounded by this criticism, since April is, of course, early in the year. What else could April be? It’s not late 2015. It’s not mid–2015. It’s early 2015. If I say “middle of the year”, any reasonable person thinks June, July—maybe May. The term “early” was classic Apple vagueness. Those of us who have been following Apple for years know to always set your expectation to the latest possible interpretation of any Apple announcement for launch times. But I digress.  ↩

  4. One thing I’m certain of, given my recent experiences with waiting in lines on day one for Apple launches: Online ordering will help guarantee that most of the few Watches Apple has on hand day one actually get into the hands of people who will want to use them, rather than into the hands of smugglers who will illegally ship them overseas. This is a continuing problem for the Apple Retail experience, especially in bigger cities, and I hope Angela Ahrendts has some plan to address it.  ↩

Release Notes Joins Forces with AltConf

As some of you may know, last year Charles and I rented a conference room at the Parc 55 hotel during WWDC and invited some of our close friends to come watch the sessions as they were being released. As with most things we do together, the idea was entirely Charles’, and it was brilliant. Everyone pitched in, from chipping in for the cost of the room, to lending us some equipment (including a portable projector, speakers, and some Karma hotspots). We had a great time, and we learned a ton. I don’t recall ever watching so many WWDC session videos so early after their release before.

Almost immediately after we got started on the first day (and had a standing-room only audience for the Keynote and State of the Union talks) it became apparent that this should be something bigger. The folks at AltConf agreed, and we decided that we should talk about joining forces the following year.

AltConf has become an institution during WWDC week. I was there for the first year at Stack Mob’s headquarters, when Alt was just getting started. And I’ve been to every rendition since. This year’s event is going to top all the previous years and then some.

Were there benefits to a small group of nerds watching these videos on our own over the course of a few days? No doubt. The discussions we had that week were invaluable, and there was a magical, small, intimacy to our little renegade project.

But there are far more benefits to us doing our “viewing room” at AltConf this year. First, it’ll be free for everyone. We don’t need to pool our pocket change together to get a space. Second, it’ll be accessible to everyone who attends AltConf. You don’t need to be in the “in” crowd or know one of us to benefit. Many more people will happen upon our room and enjoy the event, thanks to AltConf’s never-ending commitment to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all. Third, the theater rooms at the Metreon are several times larger than our little conference room at the Parc 55, so many more people can see the videos at once. We’ll be watching the sessions in a movie theater. The screen is gigantic, and the sound system isn’t two little laptop speakers. Finally, the location is far more convenient. We’re right across the street from Moscone West, and the AltConf talks will be happening in the same building. You can bounce back and forth between watching video sessions and watching the great talks going on in one of the other rooms. (Did I mention, I’m also giving a talk at AltConf?) I missed so many great talks at Alt last year because I had to walk twenty minutes between our little room at the Parc and the AltConf location. This year, that won’t be a problem.

I say to my friends every year, “Just be in San Francisco that week. It’s always worth the trip.” And I believe that. WWDC may not ever be able to expand beyond the few lucky people who get tickets, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a non-stop, week-long celebration of our love of Apple in the same city. I’m proud that Release Notes can play a small role in making that celebration even better this year.

UPDATE: There is one sponsorship slot available for our viewing room. We’re looking for a good company to help us make this viewing room a great event for everyone. Get in touch with AltConf if you are interested.


On Waiting Until Next Year

The new debate I keep having with friends is whether we should buy the first gen Apple Watch next month or not, because generation two is going to be so much thinner and lighter, and you should never buy first generation Apple products, anyway.

Okay, for starters, let’s talk about the old “never buy a first gen anything” adage. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told by certain people that first generation products from Apple are always problematic and therefore should be avoided like the plague.

I’ve been buying first generation Apple products since the late 80s, and I have yet to get burnt by one. Even if my first gen watch turned out to be a total dud, my average on first gen products from Apple has been so good that it would hardly make this old proverb seem like wisdom. Apple’s manufacturing processes have gotten so good recently that this is only going to be even less of a problem as the years go by.

I know a lot of people are risk-averse, or they had a bad experience once, or they just don’t want to shell out new money every year for the shiny objects. I have no problem with that; we all have a right to spend our money any way we want to. But this notion that first generation products are always riddled with issues is over-exaggerated, at best.

Next, on the notion that by next year, Apple Watch will somehow be significantly lighter and thinner: This is simply not likely.

“But look at the iPad, Joe” my friends say. “Look at the MacBooks and iPhones. They keep getting thinner every year.”

Yes and no. Most years they get thinner and lighter by a pretty small margin. Or, in the case of the iPhone, they only get thinner and lighter every two years. Once in a while there will be a major breakthrough, but more often than not it’s the accumulation of trimming that adds up to the PowerBooks of old becoming that new ultra-thin MacBook.

And the biggest reductions happen with the big products, like laptops that already get great battery life. Consider the size difference between a laptop and a watch, and the fact that the watch is barely getting enough battery life to be considered acceptable right now. With a product like a laptop, there’s a lot more physical space to utilize and save. Shrinking the logic board by two-thirds in that new MacBook meant a lot more space for batteries to make up for the cut in overall thickness. If you shrink that tiny little S1 chip in half (forgetting the fact that it’s unlikely Apple will be able to do that in a year) how much space did you gain? Probably not enough to make both the battery larger and the overall watch smaller. I suspect Apple is not happy with 18 hours for the first generation watch, so they won’t want to make it even shorter for the sake of thinness.[1]

Even tricks like software optimization and other reductions in power consumption only get you so far.[2] Without a major change in battery chemistry (which isn’t in the pipeline for next year, as far as anyone can tell) Apple is going to run out of ways to seriously reduce consumption eventually.

My point is, it’s harder to find places to trim when you’re dealing with such a small device that has so little to trim in the first place, and when your years of accumulated knowledge have already gone into the current design.

Will next year’s watch be thinner? Maybe. But by how much? Let’s be extremely aggressive and throw out an unrealistic number like 15%. What’s 15% of 10.5mm? 1.6mm. That would be noticeable, but not exactly earth shattering. And it’s unlikely they can do that much.

I suspect we’ll see small changes every year to Apple watch. And I do eventually expect all those changes to add up to something significant. But it’s going to take longer than people think for this device’s dimensions to change drastically.

But let’s grant that next year’s watch will be so much better that I’ll be dying to upgrade. Maybe I’m wrong about all of the above, and the watch next year will be 50% thinner, through some miracle breakthrough. Or maybe they’ll add some new sensor that brings features I won’t want to live without. (Isn’t that always the danger with any computer?) How much will an upgrade cost me?

If you think about it, you only really need to upgrade the body of the watch. If you get an Apple Watch with the link bracelet this year ($999) and want to upgrade next year, all you need to do is buy an Apple Watch with the rubber band ($599) and attach your link bracelet to it. Sell the old body with the rubber band for $300, and the upgrade ends up costing $300 or so[3]. It’s a cost, to be sure, but it’s cheaper than what I’m used to paying to upgrade laptops regularly. Certainly, $300 is cheap enough that it makes sense to enjoy wearing a watch for an entire year rather than waiting? Is is for me, anyway.

So I say go ahead and get that first gen watch this year if you want it. As with anything, buy the best device you can afford that makes you happy now, and worry about the upgrade options when they happen. Or wait, if you want to wait. But don’t tell other people they’re crazy for simply making different decisions than you. And don’t set yourself up for disappointment when Apple fails to defy the laws of physics by next April.

  1. Remember the third-generation iPad? There’s only one thing that trumps thinness for Apple, and that’s a minimum acceptable battery life.  ↩

  2. Software changes will benefit the first generation watch as well as the second.  ↩

  3. I probably won’t end up selling my first generation Apple Watch, as I’ve regretted selling my first generation iPod and iPhone. But that, again, is my choice. The fact remains, not buying the watch because you’ll just want to get the better one next year isn’t a very strong argument.  ↩

Leather vs. Leather

A number of my friends have told me that I’m out of my mind thinking Apple Watch straps could be significantly more expensive than $100 or so. After all, a leather iPhone 6 case is only $49, right?

Here’s how Apple describes the leather iPhone case they are currently selling:

These Apple-designed cases are made from premium leather for a luxurious feel.

And here’s how Apple describes the leather loop strap on the Apple Watch collection:

The Venezia leather for this band is handcrafted in Arzignano, Italy. With an artisan heritage spanning five generations, the tannery has a history of partnership with some of the most prestigious names in fashion. A delicate milling and tumbling process enhances the beautiful pebbled texture.

Which one do you think will be more expensive?

The Collection that Needs no Name

One thing that sounded odd at the unveiling of Apple Watch last September was the way they introduced the three different collections. If you watch the video with the Jony Ive voiceover, you’ll see what I mean. First, Apple Watch. Then Apple Watch Sport. Then Apple Watch Edition.

Notice they didn’t present them in the order of price, as we all know by now that Apple Watch Sport will be the “cheap” option, and the Edition, being made of gold, will be the priciest. But rather, they introduced Apple Watch first, and then the other two, as if the latter two were both variations of the canonical Apple Watch collection.

I didn’t get why Apple Watch collection didn’t get its own separate name and why it was presented first until I thought about it in terms of brand identity. Clearly, Apple Watch is the one Apple wants most people to buy.

Sport is obviously for the athletic-minded (and those unwilling to spend $1k+ on a watch, of course.) They will sell tons of these, I’m sure, and the low entry price will help grab lots of customers who otherwise wouldn’t indulge in such a device. In two or three years, perhaps, they will upgrade to the better versions. But if most people buy this collection, I think Apple will actually be in trouble. The margins on Sport have to be pretty thin.

Edition is meant as a super-high, almost unattainable fashion statement. I completely believe the estimates of several watch journalists and John Gruber when they guess the price of Edition at $10k-$20k. Almost none of us “regular” people will make the leap to that high a price, but this is the watch that George Clooney will be wearing. It’s the status symbol. Apple will sell plenty of them, don’t get me wrong. But not nearly as many as the other two collections.

And that leaves the stainless steel collection. The one with the most options. The one they show off most in pictures and videos. The one that doesn’t need a name. It’s simply Apple Watch. This is the one that will make or break the device’s success.

And it’s subsequently the one that’s hardest to guess at, in terms of price.

On the one hand, as Allen Pike pointed out on Twitter, the stainless steel version could technically be as cheap if not cheaper to produce than the aluminum Sport collection.

But we all know that Apple’s middle-tier products are never priced according to the cost of materials. (And neither are watches, coincidentally.) We also know that Apple loves its high margins. Get them into the store with the “good” product, show them the “best” product to let them know how much they could be spending, then let them settle on the “better” model.

So how do you price an item somewhere between $350 and $10k? Do you slide up towards the high end and make a bet that more people will be fashion-conscious enough to want the higher status? Or do you price it a bit closer to the low end, hoping to grab more of the people who otherwise would be grabbing Sport models?

I don’t know. A range of $800-$1,500 (roughly what John Gruber most recently predicted) makes a lot of sense to me. It’s pricier enough than the Sport to make it a status symbol, yet not so crazy as to be out of the realm of what people tend to pay for nicer watches. I certainly don’t see it being any lower than that.

Would they go up to 5k? Somewhere closer to the middle of the two pricing tiers? If they wanted to predominantly sell Sport models, then yes. But as I said in my talk at CocoaLove last October, Apple’s gift is making you feel like you bought a Mercedes when you actually paid the price of a nice Toyota. They want people to give in to that desire to get the better, classier item. And they do that by being just a little more expensive, not a lot more expensive.

But this is a watch, not a computer or a phone. Perhaps all bets are off once we move into the world of fashion?

How much higher Apple drives that stainless steel collection price will be a good indication of how confident Apple is that they can get beyond functionality and appeal to people’s sense of prestige. I believe the plan is to drive as many people up past Sport to Apple Watch as possible, in order to have a much higher ASP. And that means keeping Apple Watch collection closer to 1k than 3 or 4k in my mind. But Apple may know better.

Sure, a price of 1k–1.5k leaves a massive price gap between Apple Watch and Edition. But the more massive that gap, the better for those who would buy a gold watch, anyway.