Oh, the Apple Watch.
Cupertino’s contentious new wrist computer doesn’t have a release date yet. But the company did promise that it would debut sometime in 2015. Some critics have argued that moving into the wearables business is a bad idea for Apple, while others (like us) cautiously think the smartwatch might have potential, especially in one or two generations.
Will it sell, though? In this case, it might be instructive to look at Apple’s big, category-redefining gadgets from years past to see what critics said at the outset.
Take for instance this: David Pogue in his Oct. 25, 2001 column in the New York Times, in which he considers the value proposition behind an expensive new MP3 player. It was called the iPod, and it would cost $400.
Apple clearly believes that the iPod’s advances in size, speed, function and elegance are worth the $150 price premium, but not everyone feels that way. In an informal poll at the Macworld.com Web site, 40 percent of Mac fans indicated that they would not be buying an iPod, and every single one cited the price.
It should also be noted, however, that the remaining 60 percent had either already ordered iPods or were virtually drooling onto their keyboards. They are among the first to succumb to the lure of the most beautiful and cleverly engineered MP3 player ever. But if Apple ever lowers the iPod’s price and develops Windows software for it, watch out: the invasion of the iPod people will surely begin in earnest.
Wired‘s Brad King and Farhad Manjoo noted that some folks didn’t consider having “1,000 songs in your pocket” a very big breakthrough at all, especially for the price point. A few diehard Apple fans were actually disappointed by it:
For all Jobs’ excitement, though, Apple users at Mac discussion sites seemed a bit crestfallen that the device wasn’t as revolutionary as the company had promised last week. Indeed, many said it was over-priced and under-powered. “Apple has introduced a product that’s neither revolutionary nor breakthrough, and they’ve priced it so high that it’s reminiscent of the Cube,” a post on MacSlash said.
Now, the iPod didn’t actually start selling by the truckload until about four years later. A couple of things happened. First, the iPod was made Windows-compatible. Secondly, the technology was shrunken down into the cheaper (and arguably better-looking) iPod Nano (née Mini), which is why sales may have suddenly surged.
As we’ve posited, the Apple Watch could follow a similar path as it trickles down from the tech geek world and into the mainstream.
The iPhone, on the other hand, had a slightly shorter road to the pop culture zeitgeist, but it wasn’t without its imperfections. Some of its problems were pretty glaring too. Here’s what Adam L. Penenberg wrote in 2007 for some magazine called Fast Company shortly after the first-gen iPhone was announced:
Gorgeous as Apple’s products are, people aren’t buying them for their inherent technological superiority. For half the price of a Mac, you can pick up a PC that does pretty much the same thing. There are MP3 players that produce superior audio to the iPod. The iPhone has Wi-Fi and a beautiful touch screen, but the phone itself is middling, as is its cellular network.
Yeouch. And here’s the thing: The iPhone was disappointing to reviewers. Penenberg was mostly right. The iPhone’s screen was buggy, its web browser was more of a pain than anything, and it was only available on AT&T. Plus, anyone who owned a smartphone at that point was probably using a BlackBerry, which was at its peak. For further evidence, here’s what Engadget had to say in its first iPhone review:
To date no one’s made a phone that does so much with so little, and despite the numerous foibles of the iPhone’s gesture-based touchscreen interface, the learning curve is surprisingly low. It’s totally clear that with the iPhone, Apple raised the bar not only for the cellphone, but for portable media players and multifunction convergence devices in general.
But getting things done with the iPhone isn’t easy, and anyone looking for a productivity device will probably need to look on. Its browser falls pretty short of the “internet in your pocket” claims Apple’s made, and even though it’s still easily the most advanced mobile browser on the market, its constant crashing doesn’t exactly seal the deal. The iPhone’s Mail app–from its myriad missing features to its un-integrated POP mail experience to its obsolete method of accessing your Gmail–makes email on the iPhone a huge chore at best.
So the first iPhone was a far cry from the millions of devices customers are familiar with today. It simply didn’t work very well, but it did have potential. For all the complaints leveled at the first iPhone, though, analysts may have been even more bullish on the iPad three years later. Here what Forrester researcher Charles Golvin told the New York Times in 2010:
“I think this will appeal to the Apple acolytes, but this is essentially just a really big iPod Touch,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research, adding that he expected the iPad to mostly cannibalize the sales of other Apple products.
Mr. Golvin said book lovers would continue to opt for lighter, cheaper e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, while people looking for a small Web-ready computer would gravitate toward the budget laptops known as netbooks.
Of course, netbooks have all but disappeared and Apple went on to sell 200 million-plus tablets. But there is also one more minor talking point worth rehashing: A lot of people weren’t too fond of the name “iPad” in the first place. Per CNN:
And then there’s the name. Lots of folks watching the announcement — some of them, no doubt, dedicated Apple haters–were quick to make the lowbrow connection between the name and a personal hygiene product… While the Apple event was still going on, the term “iTampon” became a trending topic on Twitter.
If there is a lesson worth taking away from all these early criticisms–and there might not be one!–it’s that first-generation Apple products rarely wowed out the gate. They were usually buggy, often frustrating to use, and had one or two major features missing that would keep the gadget from making the leap. What these products did do, though, is chart a future toward bigger and better things.