On Tuesday, for the first time since taking over as Apple CEO, Tim Cook uttered the three words on stage that his old boss made famous: “One more thing…”
That “thing” turned out to be the long-suspected iWatch (rumors have been swirling since 2010!), only it wasn’t called iWatch. It was called Apple Watch, and like the iPhone and iPad before it, the new gadget drew mixed reactions from fans and designers. Unsurprisingly, the wrist-gadget is loaded with nifty features like a heart rate monitor and an inventive UI that should win over lots of early adopting tech nerds. That is, when it goes on sale in 2015 for $350.
The fact that Apple declined to mention a specific launch date struck some longtime Apple watchers as odd. With phones and tablets, the crew from Cupertino is known for its tight two-week windows in between the product announcement and the date the device hits Apple Stores. (The iPhone 6 is launching on Sept. 19, for example.) It’s a deliberate strategy, partially intended to keep Apple’s competitors from adopting any of its glitzier advancements, whether they be magnetic-hinged screen covers or a sensor that scans thumbprints.
So, why announce the Apple Watch with at least four months to go before it hits stores? When I posed the question about the delayed launch window to Ian Fogg, senior principal analyst at IHS, he said that outside of the more recent models of phones and tablets, there have been a few outliers. Apple TV was announced as a “work-in-progress” in September 2006, and didn’t launch until January 2007. And the first iPhone was announced in January 2007 at Macworld, but didn’t go on sale until later that June.
There were a few others, but you could count them all on one hand. Why, then, did the company announce the Apple Watch now? Here, four theories:
1. Apple wants to own the wearable app economy
“The most important thing is to get developers onboard,” says Fogg. “The thing about smart wearables is they need apps.” Enticing third-party software makers has always been a key part of Apple’s mobile strategy, and Apple Watch’s ecosystem is no different, particularly if Apple is interested in moving truckloads of the devices. And let’s face it: Apple has something of a shoddy reputation for prematurely releasing its own native apps, like Maps.
If Apple can convince software developers to start building stuff for Apple Watch now, it isn’t hard to imagine all the resources that will be shifted away from building innovative new software for other devices, like the Moto 360 and Android Wear. If Apple wants to win the race for people’s wrists, it is going to cross the finish line on the feathery wings of third-party applications.
2. Apple is sabotaging the wearable competition before the holidays
Another possible theory is that Apple’s September event is a can’t-miss platform for building buzz, as evidenced by the very apparent (and annoying) bandwidth crunch its live-stream suffered from yesterday. The company simply couldn’t afford to let its wearable entrant go unmentioned during such a high-profile event.
September also just so happens to be three months before December. If someone was thinking about buying a loved one a cool wrist gizmo for the holidays, would they still buy them a Samsung Galaxy Gear if the Apple Watch’s release was just around the corner?
3. The watch isn’t ready
The Apple Watch needs more than a little fine-tuning before it hits store shelves. Even though the watch has wireless chargers built into it, the fact that Apple was ominously quiet about the watch’s battery life speaks volumes.
Furthermore, tech reporters in Cupertino didn’t get to dive into the Apple Watch during a hands-on following the keynote. The watches were simply running looped footage of its UI, which was slightly disappointing.
In other words: The Apple Watch clearly is not ready for prime time. At least not yet.
4. Apple can’t keep secrets
There’s one more bonus reason worth touching on: Apple, like just about every 21st-century tech company staring down the insatiable belly of the gadget blogosphere, has become terrible at keeping secrets. Once the Apple Watch went into production, detailed leaks about what it looked like or what it was capable of were all but assured. Case in point: The iPhone 6, the least surprising iPhone in recent memory. It’s funny: Cook’s pledge to “double down” on secrecy means to cut down on the number of secrets that Apple is actually hiding.