Apple Watch: Limited, Expensive, and Defining

Apple’s next event is March 9 at 10 a.m. PDT, and it will be centered around the upcoming Apple Watch. At the most recent Apple event (introducing the iPhone 6 and 6+), we got a quick glance at what the Apple Watch would be. On Monday, we should get all the specifics about this new device as well as the exact release date and pricing.

As we’ve read, listened, talked, brainstormed and created for this new platform, two things have stood out that I think will be a surprise to people: features and pricing.

Features

Our smartphones do a lot today, and the center of our computing lives has shifted away from desktop computers to mobile devices. The mobile phone started as an extension of our computers; now it’s a complete, standalone offering.

This didn’t happen overnight.

When the first iPhone was released, it was designed as an extension of your desktop computer. To sync your calendar on your original iPhone you had to plug your phone into your computer with a cable and sync via iTunes. We’re so far from that day now. It’s hard to even remember what that world was like, right? But at the time, the iPhone, and this connected approach was worth it—the benefits outweighed the hassles. Based on everything I’ve seen, the Apple Watch will follow this same path, and Apple clearly feels like they’ll be able to offer enough value to overcome any limiting factors.

Battery life is a big issue for wearables and smart watches, and Apple has made some critical design decisions to be sure the watch can make it through a full day. One big limitation is strictly controlling what third-party apps can do and how much access they have. There will be a ton of ideas for apps that won’t be possible on day one, but over time these limitations will be lifted and we’ll have access to more of the device capabilities. If you want to see what some upcoming apps will look like, WatchAware has a great gallery of upcoming apps. Note how similar they all look and feel – that is by design.

Once we see and use the watch, the killer app ideas will form, and over time will be made possible. In the very long term, the dependence on the phone will also fade away, and the watch will likely be a standalone device.

Pricing

At the previous Apple event, pricing was announced as “starting at 49.” The important part of that language is “starting at.” Many people who casually follow this assume all of the devices will be priced at 50. This will not be the case.

There are three version of the Apple Watch, and while functionally is identical, they will be made of three different materials: aluminum, stainless steel, and 18k gold.

The aluminum model will have a glass front face, the two higher end editions will have a sapphire front. All three of these watch editions will be available in two sizes: 38 and 42 millimeters diagonal screen size. We don’t know yet if the larger size watch will be more expensive or have a better battery life, but if the iPhone 6+ is an indication, the answer is likely yes to both.

We know the entry level pricing will be 49, and this is a device made of glass and aluminum. Apple needs to reach a certain size market with this device, and this version, while not cheap, is accessible to a large part of the market that currently owns an iPhone (an iPhone 5 or newer will be required to use an Apple Watch).

Stainless steel and sapphire are a step up from aluminum and glass, and aside from better scratch resistance, the different materials offer nothing more in terms of features; they are simply here as a more premium material offering. It’s easy to see this version being a nice step up in price. My guess is this model starts at 00.

Things get much more interesting when you look at the 18k gold Apple Watch Edition. In the luxury market, gold watches of similar size and materials to the Apple Watch rarely sell for under 0,000 and typically go much higher than that. Estimates on the amount of pure gold in the Apple Watch vary a lot, but start at about ,000. Given the margins Apple usually goes after, it’s easy to see this device starting in the thousands. I’ve seen educated guesses going as high as 0,000 (for real).

It’s a new and unique move coming from Apple, and luxury pricing is different than traditional technology pricing that is based on features and specs alone. Apple has added many execs from the fashion and luxury world, and capturing more of the high end of the market through a play like this is a bold move. Apple owns the high-end of the world’s smartphone market, and this move would help maintain that ownership.

My guess is that the starting U.S. price for the Apple Watch Edition will be ,000. Is it possible that pricing could be higher? Yes. Does a digital device like this have the ability to stand the test of time without becoming obsolete? Unlikely, unless there is a trade-in program, or a way to upgrade the technology while keeping the expensive case it’s in. Both of these seem unlikely given Apple’s track record, but I wouldn’t rule them out – this is new territory. If the price does end up moving into luxury land, be ready to watch the press react, well, in a huge way. A ten year old Rolex tells the time as good as a new one. A ten year old smartphone is a relic. This difference is important.

A New Category

The wearable and smartwatch market is crowded with “me too” offerings. The Android Wear market is flooded with different looking but similar functioning devices, and the fitness market has a huge number of devices to choose from that track and analyze similar biometric data. Pebble, the original smartwatch, just became the most successful Kickstarter ever.

Clearly, there is demand for the next, more personal computing device, and companies and people are very interested in building and using these devices. Apple has a track record of releasing products when they are ready, and it feels like the world is waiting for Apple to make this happen. Will the Apple Watch follow the iPod, iPhone and (to a lesser degree) the iPad as devices that set the standard for this new market? We’ll certainly know more soon, and it will be fun to watch all of this unfold. Apple is rarely first into a category, but they have a track record of creating the categories they do enter.

Apple is clearly ready to release the Apple Watch, and I am excited to see what they’ve created – and what it allows us to create.