Some thoughts on the target market for the Apple Watch Edition

Thoughts on the Apple Watch have been simmering on my mental back burner since it was announced in September, and I followed along with the announcement yesterday to see what new things we might learn about the product — most significantly, the prices for the higher-end models. All we knew up to this point was that they “start” at $349, and that’s for the lowest-end, anodized aluminum Apple Watch “Sport”, with a “fluoroelastomer” (a.k.a. rubber) band. (Side note: It seems Apple is taking great pains not to call the band “rubber” in their marketing, yet I noticed Christy Turlington Burns, in her appearance on stage yesterday, referred to it — quite dismissively, no less — as “rubber”, and I think I saw Tim Cook flinch just a bit.)

The stainless steel “regular” Apple Watch and the gold Apple Watch “Edition”, with fancier bands, would clearly cost more… much more. I was frankly surprised the starting price for the steel Apple Watch is only $200 more than the Sport, and I was not at all surprised that the Edition starts at $10,000. But the fact that it does start at $10,000 got me thinking more about why. I have some ideas, which I will explore here, but first some more general thoughts on the Apple Watch.

Not my taste

First off, I personally am not really in the market for an Apple Watch at all. I find it interesting, but a) I don’t really want to wear something on my wrist, and b) I’m not interested in this until the second or third iteration. But if I were to buy an Apple Watch, there is absolutely no question that I would get the Sport. I wouldn’t even consider either other option, and price is only a small factor in that. I just don’t like shiny objects. Perhaps it’s my stubborn proletarianism lashing out, but I find wearing shiny items like a highly polished watch (in either stainless steel or gold) to be an ostentatious display of… something. Not my personality.

I especially dislike gold. I can tolerate the mild “champagne” gold color Apple has introduced on the iPhone, iPad and now MacBook, though I don’t personally want them. But pure, shiny gold is something I associate closely with Donald Trump’s raging ego. (Sorry… very specific and most probably unfair, but it is what it is. Again, just my personal taste.)

Clearly I am not the kind of person who desires high-end luxury goods. I appreciate high quality. That’s why I like Apple’s products in the first place. But there is definitely a level of luxury to which I cannot, and emphatically do not, aspire. So be it. Despite my own tastes, I do think I have some idea why Apple has created the Edition version of its watch, to whom it’s targeted, and why it costs so much.

So whose taste is it?

Most people who can’t afford it think $10,000 is an insane price to pay for a watch, and they especially cannot comprehend how someone would want to spend that much on a high-tech watch that will become obsolete in a few years. I’ve read many comparisons with Rolex and other high-end mechanical watches that are priced in that range, which are typically bought to last a lifetime, if not to become a family heirloom passed down through the generations.

This cannot be exactly the audience Apple is targeting, either. Because there’s a range of wealth where someone can afford a $10,000 watch, but it’s still a substantial investment for them — the kind of thing you buy once, ever. And then there’s the range of wealth where someone can easily drop $10,000 on a whim and not think twice about having to do so again in a few years.

This is the target market for the Apple Watch Edition. It’s extremely small. But it exists.

So the question then becomes, why is Apple targeting this market at all?

Watches are different from phones and other gadgets in a significant way that Tim Cook touched on yesterday. But he didn’t fully probe that difference and why it might make sense for Apple to create a “disposable” product with a 5-figure price tag. Watches are something you wear, a fashion accessory in a way that other objects that you merely hold or carry in your pocket are not. They are an extension of who you are, at least for some people, and quite likely for this exact small niche market I’m talking about.

In short, I believe the subset of people for whom the Apple Watch Edition is made are, in general, willing to carry the same smartphone as “the masses”… but they are not willing to wear a similarly proletarian watch.

These people are important customers to Apple. Not just because they spend a lot of money on Apple’s products, but also because they tend to be high profile people whom Apple wants the public to see carrying, using, and now wearing Apple’s products. And the only way to get them to wear an Apple Watch is to make one that is as pretentious “discriminating” as their other tastes.

But why so exclusive?

Now there is one point Tim Cook mentioned that I interpreted in a different way from other analyses I’ve seen of yesterday’s announcement. Tim Cook said something to the effect that Apple Watch Edition will be available only in extremely limited supplies, and only in “select retail stores”. Most of what I’ve read suggests this means that only some of the Apple Stores will be carrying Apple Watch Edition. Personally, I don’t think any Apple Stores will be carrying it. I think it will only be sold in exclusive luxury jewelry and watch stores. Rodeo Drive kind of places. (I guess… what the hell do I know? I’m sure there’s some ultra-luxury shopping venue I’ve never even heard of, and the people who shop there look down their noses at lowly Rodeo Drive.)

The point is, I think Apple is going out of their way to make Apple Watch Edition so absurdly ultra-exclusive because there’s a very small, very wealthy, and very important niche market for a product this extreme, but for whom it needs to be this extreme, solely as a differentiator. For everybody else who might even consider such a product — everybody — they will be satisfied by either the Apple Watch Sport or the Apple Watch.

The only difference between the regular Apple Watch and the Edition is the metal and the strap. The electronics are identical. The amount of extra R&D Apple had to put into creating the Edition can probably pay for itself, even if the Edition sells just a few hundred units. So, from that perspective, why not create it? But if you do, the only way to make it worthwhile is to go all out, if not completely overboard, with the exclusivity and perceived “luxury” of the object.

I think that’s exactly what Apple has done.

And now for a completely different complaint about modern technology: out-of-sync HDTV audio

Cletus vs. ComcastMost of my complaints about the modern technologies I love so well pertain to computer software. But here’s a new one for you: out-of-sync audio on HDTV programming.

Last year, just in time for the Beijing Olympics, we purchased a 42-inch LCD TV. It’s awesome. I know they make ’em bigger, but our smallish living room really couldn’t handle anything bigger.

It’s all great, except for one thing: frequently (like around 30% of the time) while watching HDTV programming, the audio becomes severely out of sync — at least a second or two ahead of the video. We’re getting our HDTV programming via the cable company (Comcast). We just have basic cable, but Comcast delivers the high-def signals from our local broadcast stations.

Now I have come to a point where, when I express a complaint like this, I expect the first response from many people I know will be, “Why don’t you get digital cable, cheapskate?” Why don’t I, indeed. Start with the fact that I’m already giving Comcast more money every month than I can possibly justify; 95% of what’s on cable TV is utter garbage I would never deign to watch, even though I am paying for it. The only reason I’m even paying for basic cable is because when Comcast bought out Time Warner, they changed the pricing schedule such that it’s actually $3 cheaper per month to get basic cable TV and Internet bundled ($62) than to get Internet alone ($65).

So, I’m just fine with the only HD programming I’m receiving being the local channels. That’s all I really need or want anyway. But it would be nice to at least be able to watch those channels without this ridiculous audio lag appearing with increasing frequency.

Why blame Comcast? How do I know it’s not just the signal itself? Well, I don’t. But perusing Google for similar complaints, I found some suggestions that the more intermediary devices — including cable TV itself — between the digital broadcast signal and your HD television set, the more likely this audio sync problem was to occur. Essentially what it boils down to, as I understand it, is that the digital video signal takes varying amounts of time to process, but if there’s not proper equipment in place to apply an equivalent lag to the audio channel, keeping it in sync with the video, this problem will occur.

What’s the solution? Well, if the above is correct, I have a hunch that pulling out the good ol’ rabbit ears and attaching them to my 42-inch LCD might fix the problem. And it would certainly add to the aesthetics of my living room. But ultimately, Comcast needs to fix this problem. If they’re going to deliver the HD broadcast channels’ signals, they need to do it right. After all, that’s what we’re paying them for.

XBOX 360 Sandbox

My gamer avatarI’ve added a new page to the Curiosities section of this site: XBOX 360 Sandbox. It’s a place for me to play around with the online capabilities of XBOX Live, such as displaying my gamer avatar (created on my XBOX and instantly updated online) on my own web pages; or my “gamercard” which shows how awesome (or not) I am calculated to be within the XBOX Live community (hint: I am not) along with icons of the games I’ve most recently played.

It fits with the exhibitionist nature of things like scrobbling, Twitter and all of the other online tools that have emerged lately to allow you to spew irrelevant nuggets of your personal life onto teh interwebz for others to not care about.

Yes, I get it that no one really cares that I was playing Castle Crashers last night. But I still think it’s cool that these kinds of things are actually possible, and it helps me to leave a legacy of the fundamental irrelevance of much of my existence. Consider it a cautionary tale, told in widgets, icons and 140-characters-or-less.

Bleeding-edge web design, circa 1994

Microsof’s home page in 1994... don’t cut yourself!A recently-departed (as in left for another company) coworker stopped by my desk on his last day to drop off a backup CD I had burned back in 2001. Today I popped it into the drive to see what curiosities lurked within. I was delighted to discover one of my trademark “Miscellany” folders, with a bunch of random stuff in it. Unquestionably the most interesting artifact was a screenshot of Microsoft’s website, as it appeared in 1994.

I’m simply at a loss to explain this design. Clearly many most all web designs from that early need to be cut a little slack, and I doubt any of them have truly aged well. But even through that lens, this site is inexplicably hideous.

I’m certainly not the first person to look back in time and mock this design, of course. But “usability guru” Jakob Nielsen used it in an article he wrote back at the time, and it’s still lingering on his site with a new introduction written in 1997. (Frighteningly enough, if the conclusion I draw from my brief perusal of the long and boring highly usable article is correct, he’s actually praising this design.) Personally I think Nielsen’s views are overrated, and that if he really knew as much about usability as he is supposed to, his website would look a lot different (and he’d also realize he no longer needs to cater to the bandwidth limitations of those running 28.8 kbps modems — but I digress; besides, these guys rip into him much better than I care to). But it’s still an interesting look back in time.