Obsession profession

perfection_targetWhen the Apple Watch was first announced, my initial gut reaction was mild disappointment.

I wanted to be wowed, but I felt that the device didn’t significantly improve on what was already out there…the Samsung Gear, the Pebble SmartWatch, the Motorola 360, and others.

I wasn’t wrong…I was seriously mistaken. Once I really understood what Apple had accomplished—essentially elevating a fledgling product category—I knew I had missed the boat.

Impossible standard

Apple has long been known for its product introductions. Steve Jobs was legendary at this, exercising a reality distortion field that made otherwise rational human beings fall under his spell.SJ_stamp

With Jobs gone, Apple leadership—Tim Cook and company—has struggled to find their form, their own voice and style.

In some respects, they’ve been held to an impossible standard. There was only one Steve Jobs.

The U.S. Post Office reportedly will be issuing a Steve Jobs stamp in 2015, something other countries have already done. But I digress.

Tim Cook’s Apple

On September 9, Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch to a large contingent of media, industry stalwarts, and fans. The event was big for Tim Cook and company, a watershed moment—in my view, the moment when Steve Job’s Apple became Tim Cook’s Apple.

Apple_WatchAnd Tim Cook’s Apple has taken a defining Steve Job’s characteristic—obsessive attention to detail—and amped it up to a level no other technology company can match.

Cook knew that if Apple was going to release something revolutionary, he needed to open up the company’s war chest and invest in significant new talent.

Apple’s impressive management core was still intact—Ive, Federighi, Schiller—but Cook understood that it was time for the company to add new expertise, new sensibilities, new outlooks. Apple added accomplished professionals in engineering, retail, fashion, and high-end watches, and brought those significant inputs to bear on the Apple Watch. Names such Angela Ahrendts, Paul Deneve, Kevin Lynch…the list goes on.

Best not first

It’s not news to point out that Apple is rarely first to a market. But Apple is the company most likely to disrupt a market. Apple has proven this in personal computing, digital music players, mobile phones, and tablets.gold_medal

It remains to be seen if Apple can do this again in the wearables market, but there is no question that the company has developed an elegant, powerful, fully-realized product in the Apple Watch. This is a product whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but those parts—hardware, accessories, and software—are impressive, nonetheless.

You have two watch sizes, three metallic finishes, dozens of strap styles, and a new user interface that fits the watch form factor. You have dozens of applications customized for the watch environment. You have entirely new health and home ecosystems that the device will leverage. By any standard, Apple has once again set the bar with the new offering.

And, cleverly, Apple has pre-announced the Apple Watch, which won’t be available until early 2015. Like the original iPhone, the Apple Watch will enjoy months of speculation and marketing buzz, and Apple will have months to refine the product features (e.g., battery life), and third-party developers will have months to develop new applications.

Straight to the source

Looking back at my initial impression of the Apple Watch, it was based on published reports on the Web. I was vacationing abroad at the time, and only had a few brief opportunities to check in on the coverage of Apple’s September 9 event.

listenUnder Cook’s tenure, Apple has live-streamed its events, and reportedly due to incredible interest, the live stream this time was glitch-filled, giving the company a bit of a black eye. The event, however, was taped, and Apple made the recording immediately available on its website.

After returning from my vacation, I watched the two-hour keynote in its entirety. The 45-minutes or so that was dedicated to the Apple Watch was eye-opening.

I encourage anyone who likes to make up their own mind to watch the presentation. Only then can you appreciate the passion that Apple infuses into a product. This was certainly evident in its introduction of the new iPhone 6 models.

But the Apple Watch is brand new, and the pride was evident in Tim Cook’s demeanor as he introduced “one more thing…”

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What did the presentation tell me that I did not glean from published reports? Quite a bit, actually. You see, journalists have a tendency to apply their own biases, lenses, filters—call them what you will—to what they are reporting on. I’m as guilty as the next guy or gal. So I needed to see for myself.

About 56 minutes into the presentation, Cook states that the Apple Watch is nothing less than the next chapter in Apple’s story. The introduction begins with a video that provides tight close-up views of the device, its screen, its crown, its wrist bands. One sees how precisely crafted and elegant the Apple Watch really is. Vintage Apple.

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After the video finished, and Cook returned to the stage, he received a standing ovation. One starts to comprehend what Apple has accomplished here.

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we’ve ever created,” Cook says. “We set out to make the best watch in the world.” Lofty goals, indeed. Here’s what the Apple Watch offers:

  • Synchronization with the universal time standard and accurate to within 50 milliseconds.digital_crown
  • Comprehensive health and fitness tracking capabilities.
  • A new user interface design, highlighted by a digital crown on the side of the watch. The digital crown enables user input and navigation of without obscuring the watch face.
  • Multiple apps designed for “lightweight interaction,” according to Jony Ive, Apple’s design chief.
  • Messaging features such as Smart Replies, Dictation, and Emojis.
  • Another button below the digital crown, enabling you to display thumbnail pictures of friends you can quickly contact.
  • A Sapphire crystal watch face cover, which is said to be the second hardest material to diamonds, providing scratch and shatter protection.
  • A display that recognizes the difference between a tap and a press, which enables other new paradigms of interaction. For example, you tap the Play button to play a song, but press to display the higher-level controls associated with the Music app.
  • A linear actuator that enables you to hear and feel interactions with the device, sounds and vibrations that enhance the experience.

The list does go on. Cook has stated that Apple conceived the Apple Watch right after the death of Steve Jobs, which means the company has been working on the product for over three years. And they’re still not finished.

But it’s just a watch

Before the Apple Watch was introduced, Steve Wozniak (remember him?) stated that an Apple wearable would be a hard sell. After all, an iPhone can do virtually everything the Apple Watch can do, and more.

In addition, the customer needs to own an iPhone 6 to make use of the Apple Watch, which starts at $349. What is the compelling reason to own one?

Answer: I don’t know. Yet.

But, I have a feeling that the Apple Watch might be similar to the iPad. I wrote previously in these pages that an iPad is a product that you don’t think you need, but once you own it, you wonder how you ever got along without it.

If users discover that the same is true of an Apple Watch, then look out. Apple will have another runaway hit on their hands. I wouldn’t bet against it.

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