Those expecting Apple’s Spring Forward event last night in San Francisco to unveil a raft of new hardware specs and coup de grace pricing must have been as sorely disappointed as I was.
The Apple Watch was supposed to be a game-changer for the smartwatch sector; innovative, advanced and genuinely useful, not just another new release that mimics the functions we’ve all come to rely on within our smartphones.
There was the release date (April 25 with pre-orders being taken from April 10), the vast expansion of Apple’s contactless payment system and a nifty suite of university-developed healthcare apps aimed at advancing medical research in diseases such as Parkinsons by putting doctors in touch with large groups of patients and turning the Apple Watch (or iPhone) into a diagnostic device. But elsewhere there were no surprises when it came to the Apple Watch’s hardware.
Apple boss Tim Cook and his senior engineers padded the presentation desperately, letting us know that new brand ambassador (yes, Apple has paid attention to how the watch market works) Christy Turlington had already run a half marathon in Africa whilst wearing an Apple Watch and that many of the features were ‘super cool’.
The aluminium Apple Watch Sport at £299-£339 is a sensible starting point and is sure to sell in vast numbers. The value of the Apple Watch in steel is slightly less convincing at £479-£949, after all it is little more than a miniaturised iPhone that still relies on that same iPhone. It must also be said that £949 can still buy you a very presentable quartz or mechanical watch.
When it came to the Apple Watch Edition, the surprise 18ct gold version, things got a little surreal. Prices range from $5,000-$25,000 (£3,300-£16,500) had been suggested by online commentators. I personally thought the $5,000 (£3,300) figure sounded about right, still offering Apple a vast margin, whilst not being an outrageous stretch for Apple’s legion of fans. Here in the UK you’ll be required to pay £8,000 to join the ranks of Apple Watch Edition owners while the ranges tops out at a staggering £13,500. That figure either beggars belief or neatly illustrates Apple’s perception of how far brand loyalty can be stretched.
That sum would buy you a new steel Rolex Submariner with enough left over for a beautifully hand-finished Nomos, or you could add another £500 and buy a perpetual calendar from Montblanc, the possibilities are endless.
The price is also more than four times the price of Tissot’s solid 18ct Vintage Powermatic 80 Heritage unveiled at Basel last year. Tissot succinctly demonstrated with this whisper-quiet launch that 18ct gold watch cases needn’t be prohibitively expensive when using modern manufacturing techniques. Milling produces waste precious metal that must be recovered, in other words it is inefficient in a way that electroforming or additive manufacturing is not.
This pricing suggests that Apple is not attempting to woo its existing customers into purchasing a solid gold Apple Watch, but is instead making a grab for the luxury goods market and the kind of buyer who would see value in a £5,000 mobile phone from the likes of Vertu.
Up until now Apple’s raison d’etre has been to make the previously drab tech sector sexy, a move that has made them the world’s most financially successful company and its most powerful brand. But the luxury goods sector is the savvy stratosphere of the consumer goods market. Luxury brands trade on heritage, tradition, craftsmanship and class, whilst a symptom of Apple’s extraordinary success has placed it firmly in the mass market.
No matter how many M&S-style voiceovers Jony Ive provides (this isn’t just aluminium, it’s Apple aluminium) there is no skirting around the fact that the Apple Watch will roll off Chinese conveyor belts in almost unimaginable quantities.
Add to that the fact that Apple’s success with the iPhone has depended on regular annual updates to ramp up a near constant demand and you’re left with the possibility that this £13,500 solid gold smartwatch could be technologically obsolete within 12 months. Is the watch case a sealed unit? Could the internal workings be replaced or upgraded? Will Apple offer part exchanges on previous Edition? The question over Apple Watch Edition’s status as an heirloom watch today remains unanswered.
Tim Cook could be heard hedging his bets as he announced the Apple Watch Edition would be available in limited numbers; the watch and what it represents is the biggest gamble in Apple’s recent history, but with $770billion dollars to play with anyone could afford to ante up once in a while.