The truth is that almost every tech company is a one trick pony. While Microsoft dominates the PC market, it couldn’t replicate its success in search, social media, smart phones, tablets and a whole host of other categories. Google has famously invested in moonshots like self-driving cars and Google Glass, yet 90% of Google’s 2014 revenue still came from online advertising. It’s this inability to replicate disruptive innovation that leads to tech companies’ inevitable decline.
While there are very few examples of companies pulling off even a second trick, it was Steve Job’s singular genius that he pulled off four: The Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad.
This is what makes today, the official first day that Apple Watches are available, the most important day of the post-Steve Jobs Apple Era. Whether it marks the first day of Apple’s decline or the next chapter in the company’s unparalleled track record depends on the answer to one simple question:
Is the Apple Watch the next iPhone or is it the next Apple Newton, the first big new product of the last post-Steve Jobs era?
This question actually has two parts: 1) Assuming that the Apple Watch delivers on its promise, will it be one of those rare devices that proves so incredibly valuable that in relatively short order everyone will have one, and 2) Will the Apple Watch deliver on its promise?
As to the first part of this question, there is certainly a lot of skepticism that mostly boils down to “I don’t see how looking down on my wrist is so much better than pulling my phone out of my pocket” and “The screen is so small you can’t do anything on it.”
Honestly until last week I was a skeptic. I use an Android phone and PC and generally don’t think Apple devices are worth the premium. As part of doing my homework for this post, I scheduled a 15 minute Apple Watch Try On appointment at the Apple Store. By the time I left, I was a proud owner of a new Apple Watch (scheduled for delivery in mid-June).
The crazy thing about the Try On appointments is that you don’t even get to try on a working Apple Watch. While physically the Try On watches are the real thing, they are currently running demo software. However, it was clear just from putting the watch on my wrist and talking with the salesperson about how it was going to work, that, if it actually does what it is supposed to, it will be transformational.
One of the most important themes that’s emerged from Topline’s work over the last several years is the almost unbelievable importance of ease-of-use. Being able to address what might seem to be small issue – I have to reach into my pocket and pull out my phone – can create a breakthrough.
In one recent project, we uncovered that the sales of an enterprise software product that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars were turning on what one would think was a trivial issue – whether a workflow could be approved with one click (directly from a notification email) or two clicks (the user had to first click on a link in the email to open the application and then click a second time to approve the workflow). While this doesn’t sound important, when the people doing most of the workflow approvals are Executives, who had complained about what a pain approvals were, eliminating one click turns out to be worth tens of millions of dollars.
In my case, the two features that sold me on the Apple Watch were:
- Being able to take a call hands free without a blue tooth headset. Supposedly the directional microphone makes it possible speak on the phone while continuing with whatever you are doing – cooking, walking, driving. No need to speak into your wrist Secret Service style.
- Being able to read and answer a text without a phone. The Apple Watch will vibrate to let you know a new text has arrived, which you can reply to by voice.
This now brings us to the second part of the question – does the Apple Watch deliver on its promise? The Apple Newton, despite being an unmitigated commercial failure and a laughing stock due to its hilariously bad handwriting recognition, was not a failure of imagination. Had the technology lived up to its promise, it could have been great. What separated Steve Jobs from John Sculley was his ability come up with a great idea and then turn it into a fabulous reality.
It is here where I have some concern. From the reviews, it was not clear whether the Apple Watch is really a great product or just a great idea with technology that falls short. As Apple Watches start to roll out in big numbers over the next several weeks, the answer should become clear.
Good thing my Apple Watch comes with a 14 day no questions asked return policy.