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It's News To Me

Apple Watch Fever

March 10, 2015          

Episode Summary

At Apple’s big unveiling on Monday, we got a better look at the Apple Watch, what the company hopes will be its next category-busting tech product. At the event, Apple also announced HBO NOW, fulfilling the dreams of cord-cutters everywhere; ResearchKit, the open source health study software; and the next generation of its CarPlay system, rolling out with 40 new autos next year. In this episode of The Digital Life, we consider whether Apple has jumped the shark with its new Watch, the implications of CarPlay for the rolling tech boxes that used to be just transportation, and the promise of ResearchKit for the medical research community.

Jon:
Welcome to episode 93 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host Jon Follett and with me is founder and co-host Dirk Knemeyer.

Dirk:
Hey Jon, big news in the Apple world today.

Jon:
Yeah. I suppose if you’re an Apple watcher, an Apple fan or just interested in the biggest, one of the most powerful companies in the world, then today’s event is going to be relevant to you and relevant to the markets and frankly relevant to all of the consumer technology of which they have taken almost a stranglehold of recently.

Dirk:
Also, if you’re an Apple skeptic like me.

Jon:
Yes. I’m sure there are many in that camp as well. Let’s dig in a little bit to Apple’s big even today which was sort of minimally hyped from the Apple side but then fueled lots of rumor and speculation of the tech press. I imagine that Apple tech press probably employs quite a lot of people who can stoke the rumor mill, but now we have the real thing in front of us. Shall we start maybe with the anticipated object which I guess is going to dominate our wrist going forward, the Apple Watch? What’s your immediate reaction to this future forward wearable that Apple is putting forth?

Dirk:
So underwhelming. If it was announced as just sort of one product among some other products that aren’t very impressive or if there were some other really impressive product and then the Apple Watch was sort of a sideshow, yeah, then it would be interesting, because I think for the quantified self folks, for the real data heads, especially for people who are very active and are tied in to their metrics, there’s some interesting things about it.

For the rest of us, I don’t think there’s much there. Our smartphones are already pretty convenient and give us what we need. Do we really need to duplicate it on our wrist? I know the last time I wear a watch, this was 2004 I think. The scrapping of the band on my laptop case when I was trying to type and use the laptop was so annoying. I would always have to take the watch off, put it back on.

Finally, one day, I got mad and threw the watch across the room. Having something on my wrist that is conflicting with my otherwise computer use, there’s no value there at all for me. We certainly have moved away from wristwatches culturally as the smartphones have become predominant. I think it’s a really niche thing.

There may end up being some killer feature that leads me to buy it. I don’t see that happening, but even if it did, I can only imagine using it in specific and limited instances not having that big kind of ugly thing on my wrist. I’m really underwhelmed and it goes back to the theme we talked about at the beginning of the year that Apple has just really lost its mojo as the cool lifestyle computing company.

Jon:
Yeah. I think the problem that I have with the Apple Watch or at least my initial difficulty with it stems from the fact that I don’t see a clear use case where it’s either replacing something I have with something better and amazing or just the design that’s making me salivate and making it a must have.

With all of Apple’s prior products and I mean all of them, there is always those two things in combination that gave me the impetus to buy. When the iPod first came on the scene, the incredible ability to put your entire music collection into your pocket, for me as a fan of music, that was a big deal. It really took that Walkman if you’re a Gen-Xer growing up in the 80s, you had your yellow Walkman by your side. It replaced that with something so incredible that you could only dream about it, having access to your entire music collection. Fine, that’s the iPod.

The iPad on the other hand starts replacing things like your television, your laptop if you’re in an entertainment mode. It replaces your sketchpad. It replaces a lot of things. It also just has this must-have feeling to it and it created an entire product category. You could say the iPhone sort of combines all of those things into one.

I’m still trying to figure out what the Apple Watch like where that would fit in my life. I’m certainly a lover of watches as jewelry and as objects d’art. I can really appreciate a fine watch when I see it and wear it occasionally at an important event or something. It looks flashy, but beyond that, I’m probably not as much a quantified selfer as some of the other folks in the studio.

I’m really struggling because I want to want it, but I can’t want it. If you know what I mean.

Dirk:
Yeah, absolutely. Totally know what you mean. I think that’s the problem that they’re going to face. It’s expensive and the use is not clear. I don’t know, how well it does financially, I’m sure they’ll spin it positively. Just not great. Not great at all.

More than anything, it really just signals the demise of Apple from the standpoint of being a real innovator. Of offering a trailblazing sort of unique solution in the personal computing space. The iWatch is their biggest announcement, the thing they’ve beaten the drum on the hardest since the iPad. What was the iPad, 2010? It’s been five years. They basically had no big announcements.

This one, this is the product that they’re really hanging their head on. All of the hierarchy is genuflecting and acting like this is the greatest thing since slice bread. It’s a really bad sign.

Again, I’m sure from a financial perspective, they’re still going to keep selling products hand over fist, but what we’re seeing is the real erosion of their position as the leader. Five to ten years ago whenever I would be in a meeting with a potential client, not everyone but most of them ostensibly, they’d say, “We want to be like Apple. We want our stuff to be like Apple stuff.”

Those days are going fast and there’s no sign of them coming back. At the same time, we’re seeing really interesting new things from Amazon, from Google, from some other companies. The things that are more likely to draw attention aren’t coming from Apple. They’re coming from other places which is concerning.

I expect the next big thing to come from, frankly, Amazon or Google. I think those are the two big ones, but ironically with the watch … Jon, you and I saw over the weekend there’s a new startup doing a digital watch called Runcible and that thing is really cool. If I want a digital watch, I’m getting that thing. That’s what I’m excited about. They’ve completely outflanked Apple by better understanding the market, better understanding this moment in time. It’s just all very troubling. I don’t know.

Jon:
Yeah. Just to follow up on your comment about Runcible, they’ve got the natural wood casing that mimics the shape of the pocket watch of old and is sort of not quite a steampunk look to it, but that’s sort of beautiful wood exterior which makes it, I think in some ways, a little bit more accessible object at least if you enjoy that kind of craftsmanship.

I don’t know if this will be an oncoming trend, but it feels like a more personal object. At times, computing objects can feel impersonal which is why people will go and modify them so it reflects their personality. The Runcible seems immediately to have that greater degree of personality and accessibility and things that would make me want to own it. Kudos to them for integrating those aspects into their design.

Dirk:
They have a much better sense of what the market and what we as consumers need at this moment in time. We are laden with iPhone, iPad, MacBook. We’re always in these aluminum, steel, microchip, screen, bright devices. That’s not the totality of what we are, and so piling more of that on and doubling down isn’t what we want right now.

Apple is completely tone deaf to it and Runcible, this little unknown startup, albeit with a really strong executive team with great background and credentials, is … Yeah, that wood casing, rock on man, that looks really neat. The round form factor, fantastic. That’s something cool. That’s something that better aligns with the whole of who I want to be as a person than the Apple stacking the same crap on top of more.

Jon:
Right. One sort of final thought on the Apple Watch in terms of its adoption curve. The iPhone with its price point was … That price was mitigated somewhat by the phone companies providing a little extra incentive for you to sign up for service. I don’t know who paid full price for their iPhone. Maybe a lot of folks did, but for me, I’ve always obtained through a package through one of the cellular or smartphone carriers.

For me, the price was always slightly reduced and I don’t know whether the carriers are going to have services that relate to the Apple Watch and therefore subsidize in some way, but I think that was a really helpful way for the iPhone to get some additional traction and I just don’t know that they’re going to have access to that kind of capital outlay from carriers with this particular product.

Dirk:
Another problem with it too which flows out of what you just said is that the average person can afford it. One thing that, in the past, I liked about being an Apple user along with their great innovation was not everybody have their stuff. I’m increasingly shocked as I go through the world how so many people of all income brackets, of all levels of the socioeconomic strata are carrying around iPhones despite the expense of the device and or despite the expense of the carrier plan.

That’s not going to be the case with the iWatch and the problem that they have is now that they’re catering to presumably just more wealthy people. Watches like that market has a lot of really gorgeous high end well designed stuff. By comparison that the iWatch is a really clumsy hacky thing.

I guess maybe they can hope that wealthy people want to differentiate themselves against the masses by being the once who are mobile computing with an iWatch as oppose to an iPhone, but if that’s the bet they’re taking, that’s a long one indeed.

Jon:
Yeah, very true. Let’s talk about some of the other Apple announcements today and see what else the tech giant has to offer. What did you notice from the event Dirk?

Dirk:
The other sort of big announcement I think was their emphasis on the Apple HealthKit and particularly really drawing home the notion of the research kit, of the citizen scientist of collecting data from all of us all the time. That’s a feature that I’m sure will flow in to the iWatch as well, although it’s one well supported by just the iPhone itself.

That’s interesting that they are going sort of all the way with that, certainly in a way beyond what other companies have done. There seems to be no doubt that Google will do the same thing and Samsung … Depending if we’re talking about software or hardware side, these companies will do the same thing and go down the same path. It really lifts the kimono a little bit on their strategy of total self, total life computing, because they really had a lot to say about that.

Jon:
I think there are elements of the Research Kit, if not in its entirety that open source which bodes well for the research community which doesn’t often have the funding to back it up. That will certainly drive adoption.

I think as well, the idea that mobile health scales. It’s very difficult to scale healthcare when you’re talking just about clinicians, doctors, nurses, what have you, but if you’re talking about access to your data or methods for tracking yourself via your smartphone, then all of a sudden, you have this digital health capability that can grow quite quickly which is sort of the ongoing promise of mHealth and the digital health movements behind that.

Ultimately, I think this is a good bet that Apple’s taking with the research community and … We have a number of services that we’ve worked on here at Involution that will relate to that community, so I can only imagine that sooner or later, we’re going to be using Research Kit ourselves.

Dirk:
Yeah, there’s no question about it. Thinking back to the whole talk today, another thing that really stood out in a positive way for me was HBO Now on Apple TV. I was an early cord cutter. I cut, I don’t know how long ago, more than five years ago initially and eventually went back. Now, I’ve got DirecTV because the options is just weren’t there. It was a little dicey.

Recently, I’ve been looking and asking myself, “What is the gap? What would it take for me to cut again?” There’s only a couple of things, HBO being one of them. Seeing this move to Apple TV is kind of a big deal because it may be just enough to push me back to being a cord cutter. Boy, that would save us a lot of money every month. That was pretty cool. I was excited to see that.

Jon:
The evolution of the new networks, the streaming services that are gaining by leaps and bounds. HBO has definitely been at least keeping pace, if not, ahead of the pack just because of their strength of their content and then also … They have the vision to create the streaming service in and of itself, but it’s amazing to me the amount of attention that Netflix is garnering for, its original programming and that Amazon recently won an award for its Transparent series.

It’s no longer the content ghetto for the streaming services. All of a sudden, streaming services are kind of the new networks for lack of a better term and they’re experimenting and they’re doing things in interesting ways and they’re really moving the ball forward.

I think as similar to you, the fact that HBO is now cable company free and available to me like a fantastically huge fan of HBO content. I could probably watch it all day. I’m extremely excited. Now, I just need to figure out the ins and outs of live sporting events and you’ve got me as a cord cutter.

Dirk:
Let’s see what else do they talk about today. They emphasized the CarPlay. We talked before Apple and automobiles. Right now, they’re still cooperating the big announcement with CarPlay was. They say all major brands and manufacturers will support easy iPhone integration. That will sure be nice. That would be enough reason for me to wait an extra year to get a car. I sure as hell love to use my iPhone more safely while I’m transporting around. That was a plus.

Jon:
Yeah. It really speaks to Apple exploring these other categories. We talked about the Apple Car rumor as well, just the idea of the car as a moving room now of technology. They’re trying to get their tendrils in there and they have done a good job of it so far. It remains to be seen how far they go and whether there’s an Apple Car out there and not just a CarPlay.

It’s fascinating to me the evolution of these tech giant companies. You mentioned Google and Amazon as also being right up there in the mix in this competition and what they’ll really look like in the next decade or so. Time will tell, but I imagine that the Apple and Google and Amazon of today are not going to look anything like their future instantiations.

Dirk:
Yeah. That’s true. The last thing that I’ll mention from the talk is they, of course, announced new MacBooks. They’re all smaller yet better which is what is always the case with these things which is a good thing, but they also had now have more colors.

They have sort of … Mirroring the iPhone lineup; A space gray, a silver and a gold. Man, I cannot freaking imagine walking around with a gold MacBook. That would just be embarrassing, don’t you think?

Jon:
Yeah, it feels more like bling now, doesn’t it?

Dirk:
Yeah, you’d have to be a Kardashians fan I think to be running around with that.

Jon:
I’m not certain. Gold is not really my color, so that might be okay for somebody else though, but it’s not a fashion accessory, or is it? Do we even know anymore?

Dirk:
Getting some personality into your machine, that’s understandable. Apple certainly was successful with that 15 or so years go, but gold? I don’t know man, it’s just … It feels tone deaf. It feels really tone deaf. They’re kind of boxing me into the silver and space gray and that’s just sort of two shades of the same stripe.

Jon:
I’m right there with you. We’ll avoid the gold MacBook and stick with the standard silver I think.

Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com. That’s just one L in the Digital Life and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody. It’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening or afterward if you are trying to remember something that you liked.

If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on twitter at jonfollett. That’s J-O-N-F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O dot com. Dirk?

Dirk:
You can follow me on Twitter at dknemeyer, that’s @-D-K-N-E-M-E-Y-E-R or email me, dirk@goinvo.com.

Jon:
That’s it for episode 93 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett and we’ll see you next time.

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