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Smartwatch is a dumb move for Apple

September 9, 2014
Better if the new Apple Watch looked like this old one.

Not the new Apple Watch. Better if it looked like this old one.

If life really was like Twitter then earlier today (Tuesday, September 9) Samsung would have been happy to receive the notification — on it’s Galaxy Gear Smartwatch no less — that it had a new follower in the form of Apple Computers, a company Samsung has been following for years.

The day’s big news that Apple would be coming out with a smartwatch in early 2015 came as a surprise to no one except me. I kept believing till the bitter end that Apple was smarter than that.

Of course the announcement, complete with tantalizing pictures of something that looked suspiciously like a bulbous version of the iPod Nano Touch (possibly gold-plated), dominated the technology news cycle.

What Apple watchers have been waiting for all this time

When critics charged that the world’s most valuable tech company had been coasting under CEO Tim Cook — when they asked “Where is the innovation? Where is the next iPad, or the next Retinal Display “?

The answer was always: “Just you wait, they’re coming out with a smartwatch”.

And so they have but I can’t help thinking it’s a terrible mistake, if not a sign of the end times, at least for Apple.

This time I think Apple’s made a mistake

The glamour that surrounds an Apple product announcement is serving to obscure a fact that must become glaringly obvious.

The two most talked-about Apple products coming down the pipeline for a 2015 release — a smartwatch and a phablet-sized iPhone 6 — mean that for the first time since the mid 1990s, Apple will be following the lead of a competitor — and they will be doing it in two product categories.

Samsung beat Apple to market with the glitchy Galaxy Gear smartwatch and Samsung created the popular category of the phablet — the over-sized smartphone that’s nearly as large as a tablet.

Apple is now deciding to play catchup with Samsung when it could have easily led had it wanted to. It could’ve evolved the touch Nano into a smartwatch four years ago — had it wanted to — and how hard was a larger size iPhone?

For whatever reason, Apple has looked and acted, for the last few years, like a company resting on its laurels.

As a result, Apple may still be the most valuable tech company in the world but it is no longer the leader in any product category. It may still be making money hand over fist but, like Microsoft which is also still quite profitable, Apple is suddenly looking like a bit of an also-ran.

Like Gulliver, Apple is being laid low by countless Liliputians. Its giant lead in smartphones and tablets has vanished. Its profitability rests on the exquisite nature of its craftsmanship and attention to details, both in terms of hardware and operating system.

Nothing the Android world produces — neither handsets not operating systems — is as finely made as an Apple product running the iOS but that doesn’t matter. The Android operating system is virtually free to manufacturers so it’s now running on way over a billion devices.

How Google may be turning back the clock on Apple

Google is the new Microsoft and Android is the new Windows. And like the Windows operating system of the 1990s, Android is running on everything and running circles around Apple.

Apple faces the very real risk of being driven back into the position of a marginal boutique manufacturer.

Back in the mid 1990s, the last time this happened, Apple lost its innovative edge, lost its way chasing the market with products such as the Pippin game console and very nearly died as a result.

It took the second coming of Steve Jobs to resurrect the fortunes of Apple. I don’t think the cool kids from Cupertino can expect help from that quarter a third time.

Can’t believe Apple is dumb enough for a smartwatch

I say all this because I really believe a smartwatch is a dumb product category.  If the watch is smart that means the design of your smartphone is dumb. And if it isn’t, why do you need the watch?

No mobile operating system is more carefully crafted for pleasurable ease of use than Apple’s iOS.  I never seriously imagined Apple would produce a product meant to circumvent that interface — that’s the purpose of a smartwatch, to become the new front end for a smartphone, which can then stay in a person’s pocket.

AND they’re coming out with a phablet too?

It’s one thing for Samsung to have contradictions in their product line. They can afford to throw 20 different form factors at the market place just to see what sticks.

Normally Apple only brings products to market that it knows consumers want and desire.

Apple will have its clock cleaned if it plays to Samsung’s strengths

Apple simply can’t afford to follow along with the herd, it must innovate and lead or risk being trampled.

And more to the point, Apple simply can’t win trying to compete punch for punch against Samsung, a truly gigantic vertically-integrated multinational producer of everything. Samsung can afford to lose money on products for years if it will ultimately cripple or destroy a competitor.

Apple can only win if it chooses to fight above Samsung’s competence — Apple is all about excellence and innovation, Samsung is really only about profitability.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he ignored conventional wisdom. He didn’t try to compete head-to-head with Microsoft.He refused to fight on Microsoft’s terms. He knew that was a mug’s game for a company as small as Apple.

Instead, Jobs waged asymmetrical warfare; strategically innovating circles around the muscle-bound software giant.

Microsoft never quite figured out what Apple was up. The iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad, each caught Microsoft off guard.

Today Apple should, I think, be more mindful of its own history.

If Samsung zigs with a smartwatch, Apple should zag with an “iPatch” or something.

Above all, Apple should be following it’s own road map and daring others to follow behind it.

Admittedly, if Apple had come out with a smartwatch four years ago, it would  have been leading the market instead of following like it’s doing now.

There’s also the little matter of timing.

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