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Apple taking a wrist risk? The countdown to watch’s release
2015-03-16
By Zhu Shenshen

I would like to quote a joke from Chinese social media about Apple’s new smartwatch.

 “I am willing to sell my kidneys to buy one, but I’m not sure that will be enough,” wrote a wisecracker.

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He was referring to the 18-carat gold Apple Watch Edition, priced at more than US$10,000.

Of course, that’s the top of the line in Apple’s new penetration into the wearable computing market.

The Apple Watch will be available in several major markets, including China, starting from April 24. Apple will sell its entry-level Watch Sport at prices starting from 2,588 yuan (US$413). There will be a watch priced at 4,188 yuan, and the luxury-line Watch Edition starting at 74,800 yuan.

Social media have been buzzing with talk about the new Apple product. Many commentators are enthusiastic about the new gadget but concerned about the price. The most expensive Apple Watch will cost 120,000 yuan, almost 20 times the price of an iPhone 6 Plus.

As an ardent observer of the tech scene, I must admit I was disappointed by some of the watch features. For example, battery life. But then again, it’s a first-generation watch. Remember how the first-generation iPhone also generated complaints from industry analysts and consumers?

Of course, my impression of the new watch is based solely on information provided during the media unveiling in San Francisco. It will be interesting to see how opinions change once the watch is on wrists. But ahead of that, here are some of my initial thoughts.

Disappointments

BATTERY life

Cook boated that the Apple Watch to have “all-day battery life,” or some 18 hours between charges.

Though that exceeded most expectations of battery duration of only several hours, it still lags behind other Android watches, such as models made by Motorola, Samsung, Sony and LG. The Apple Watch’s battery life is much less than that of the new Pebble Time, with energy-efficient e-ink technology and battery life of several days.

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There’s a joke making the rounds online: “The Apple Watch will create good husbands. They will have to go home every night to recharge their watches.”

Price

Remember the joke about selling a kidney to buy a smartwatch? It’s actually more sad than funny.

A poor, young Chinese man reportedly agreed to sell one of his kidneys so he could afford an iPhone and iPad. The incident, reported in Chinese media, has spawned the phrase “kidney-selling” to mean something you really want but can’t afford.

When the Apple Watch was unveiled, Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson described the event as “relatively unsurprising, with little new information other than price.”

Obviously, Apple aims to establish a new luxury line for the watch. That may explain why Apple appointed Burberry’s former CEO as a vice president.

It’s not that people don’t crave stylish luxury watches. Brands like Rolex and IWC, priced up in the stratosphere, are much sought-after items by the wealthy. The question is: Can that demand be channeled to the smartphone market?

I am willing to bet that Apple will upgrade Apple Watch within one or two years, giving it improved battery life or round-shaped design. What then? Will those who buy Watch Edition now be willing to buy a newer design for another US$10,000?

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Highlights

THE China theme

I think Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, did a lot during the media unveiling to attract attention from China. He certainly knows well that China is the biggest and most rapidly growing market, both for luxury products and consumer electronics.

Cook started the whole event by introducing a new Apple Store along West Lake in Hangzhou. Apple expects to have 40 stores in China by the middle of next year, compared with 21 stores now.

China is among the first regions where the Apple Watch will go on sale next month. WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging app, was recommended for the first batch of Apple Watch applications during the event.

Also mentioned were Weibo, China’s version of Twitter; Alipay, Alibaba’s online payment system; and Ctrip, China’s biggest online tourism website.

Tmall.com, a subsidiary of China e-commerce giant Alibaba, will start selling the Apple Watch on April 24, the same day as Apple Stores will begin shipment.

Apple expects to sell 20 million Apple Watches globally this year, with China being one of the most important markets for the US tech giant, said Figo Wang, a TrendForce analyst.

Post-Jobs innovation

The Apple Watch signifies a few firsts in Apple’s history. It’s the company’s first gadget in wearable computing. It’s the first new-category product in the post-Steve Jobs era. It’s also the first Apple foray into what could be called the luxury fashion industry.

“Apple Watch begins a new chapter in the way we relate to technology,” Cook said during the launch event. “It’s the most personal device we have ever created.”

Connecting wirelessly to a user’s iPhone, the watch is designed as a wrist device for messaging, calls and a variety of health apps.

Apple is brave to enter a new, relatively untried market after the phenomenal success of its iPhone, iPad and Macbook businesses made it the world’s most profitable company.

The smartwatch, though not yet perfected, has its own tech highlights.

The watch face is made of sapphire, a new technology that offers high durability, compared with traditional glass. The Apple Watch is expected to boost sales of sapphire glass, making it more affordable as volumes increase. It may eventually be applied to smartphones and tablets, benefitting consumers.

The Apple Watch is integrated with Apple Pay’s mobile wallet, which allows users to complete payments without opening their phones.

But one of the keys to Apple Watch marketing are the health and fitness applications.

The watch has an accelerometer, a heart rate sensor and sensors providing “a comprehensive picture of the user’s all-day activities and workouts,” according to Apple.

The Apple Watch will even prompt a user to get up and walk about if that person becomes too sedentary.


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