Why did Apple announce their new Watch today? It’s a question many are asking, as Apple typically announces products immediately prior to release to capitalize on all the press and consumer interest about their unveilings. Apple grew into the largest company in the world by following a formula for predictable annual events and product unveilings right down to the “One more thing…” line used today, so today’s announcement might not have been surprising but its timing is a bit confusing.
I’ve gone back and forth on this question all day, as a PR/Marketing professional with years of experience working in the tech industry (as well as an admitted Apple fanboy). Here’s my two cents as to the strategic reasons Apple decided to announce their product today, instead of say January 2015 (per the iPad’s example):
- Apple has been working on this product “a long time”, working through numerous device design and user interface challenges for this new wearable tech, but it’s clear from today’s announcement that they’re not ready to ship the product by the end of 2014. I’d speculate that this year’s holiday shopping season was Apple’s original goal, but it seems like even after years of work, there are still final touches and polish Apple wants to make sure that it maintains their brand’s value of surprise and delight to the consumer*.
- Tim Cook is the supply chain master, and he famously promised to “Double down on secrecy” last year when talking about new products. As made evident during the last few iPhone releases, it’s typically the supply chain manufacturers who tend to leak details, and even specific components for upcoming Apple products. So given the delayed release of the Apple Watch, it’s possible Apple waited to the final possible moment before the announcement to begin production on these complex new devices**.
- Likewise given the large number of corporate partners with apps ready to feature in the product demonstration (Nike, American Air, Disney, Twitter, SPG, and major banks to name a few), it must have been hard to keep this product secret much longer. In fact, only a few days before the launch, news about Apple’s new payment system being integrated into the new device began to leak.
- One potential benefit for announcing the Apple Watch today is giving not just app developers, but also accessory manufacturers time to make stuff to work with their new product. One prominent (and under reported) feature of the new watch is that the watch bands are not just interchangeable but standardized, and given that we know Apple thinks consumers have a great desire to customize their smartwatches to match their style, just imagine the interest (and lead times) needed for designer brands*** to create their own custom watch bands.
- Tim Cook says it’s “worth the wait”. Announcing the Apple Watch today (instead of say in January 2015) has the PR benefit of taking the wind out of any competitors’ sails going into the holiday shopping season. We know from the iPhone (and other Apple products) that consumers are willing to wait until Apple unveils its next big thing to make their purchase decision, whether waiting to upgrade their phones or waiting to see if Apple makes a better version of what others are selling.
Speaking of competing smartwatches, in the coming weeks I expect we’ll see reviews of the Apple Watch (even prior to release) compared to what’s already on the market. These pre-release review will assuredly use feature sets in contrast with existing smartwatches, especially noting what the Apple Watch doesn’t have. So I can already expect articles about the lack of a camera, or the dependance on the iPhone (which has a MUCH better camera anyway) to operate GPS and wireless connectivity. Yet in typical Apple fashion this new product exemplifies the best design decisions by all the things it doesn’t try to do in favor of focusing on doing fewer things well, which will make a bigger impact on your everyday life. For example, the Apple Watch packs a ton of fitness tracking tech, and while it’s likely not the best dedicated fitness band with the most sensors, it certainly seems like it could be the most useful interface. Knowing Apple every design compromise seems to fit into making the device more useful (not more complicated). And by offloading some work to the iPhone should help maximize battery life which so far has been a major compromise at the expense of smartwatches already on the market.
In the end only Apple executives know for sure why their new Watch was announced today, but the more I think about it I’m sure that this was a smart strategic move by the company. Now we just have to wait to find out if the wait until next year is worth it for consumers….
* A good example already in today’s demonstration in the “surprise and delight” column: the demo of the watch faces which include the “moon trip” and solar system graphics. Do these add any practical value to the user’s everyday life? Probably not (astronomers and sky gazers excepted), but it’s these little additions which really make Apple shine compared with their competitors.
** Kudos are truly due to Apple on keeping so many details about the product secret. Just go back and look at all the rumors, mockups, and downright fabricated “leaks” about the device and I think you’ll be impressed how long Apple kept this under wraps.
*** We can be confident that Apple’s hiring of execute talent from designer brands like Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent, Tag Heuer, and even Nike may have helped them better appreciate and understand what kinds of devices and designs consumers might want to wear. There have been some truly ugly designs in the wearables space, and most of them miss half the market with their sporty or geeky designs made by men (and largely worn by more men than women).