Will the Apple Watch Impose a Dominant Design for Smartwatches?


Everyone is wondering whether the Apple Watch will be a success. Failure or success, this smartwatch will remain a famous business case study.

At the moment no one knows what is going to happen. As Apple has had a strong track record since the first iPod, experts and journalists have been very kind with their reviews of the new device. Instead of showing strong opinions, they raise questions or just record movies of them using the watch. Keep in mind that when Apple released the iPhone in 2007, journalists had much stronger opinions.

Many products failed because they were released too early: the Apple Newton — one of the first handset — or the Visor, which was started by the father of the Palm Pilot and offered the opportunity to take pictures or get a pedometer on your mobile device. You can be ahead in term of technology. But this is not a factor for success.

When Apple launched the first iPhone, the smartphone did not have the best technology but it had the most intuitive user experience. The iPhone was a more human way to use technology. Some phones like the N95 were more advanced. But the iPhone user interface was intuitive. Apple had reduced the learning curve. Digital migrants and young children could adopt it very quickly.

A new interface: the idea behind the Apple Watch

Smartwatches offer a new interface, i.e. a new way for humans to interact with technology. Smartphones were the first piece of technology that made us significantly move away from desktop computers and TV, increasing our mobility. Smartwatches want to make our interaction with technology even simpler.

A smartwatch is even more mobile than a phone. We no longer need take our phone out of our pocket or — even more time consuming — from our bag. At first glance, it seems aligned with the way we live. Apple wants to build a new bridge between technology and us.

Apple attempts to make technology more human, i.e. part of us. Technology is going to be omnipresent, sharing an even bigger part of our life.

“There was a sense that technology was going to move onto the body,” said Alan Dye to Wired.com, who runs Apple’s human interface group. “We felt like the natural place, the place that had historical relevance and significance, was the wrist.”

This seems to be a wonderful mission. Will it be successful? We shall not forget that technology is only a means for an end. The crucial part of the story is adoption. How will consumers use their smartwatches?

Every major Apple’s products raised a similar question. Remember that everyone was wondering why would we need an iPad.


The future of the Apple Watch

A quest for a dominant design

The smartwatch industry illustrates a dominant design case. At the moment, many shapes and user cases are available: round (Moto 360) or square (Samsung); a smartphone on your wrist (Samsung), an additional screen to your phone (Pebble), or just a fitness band that tells what time it is (Withings). Apple releases its watch in a very chaotic environment.

Apple has demonstrated an incredible agility by leading changes in the computer and mobile industry. While similar technology already existed, the firm succeeded to impose a dominant design with is mouse, the iPod, the iPhone, or the iPad.

At the time the iPhone was released all sorts of phones were available. Today’s phones look quite similar to Steve Jobs’s vision.


Challenges for adoption: Use case and killer app

Figuring out the dominant design requires understanding how people are going to use the device. This explains why so many different versions are available today.

Apple uses several leverages to foster adoption. The company has quickly understood that today’s watches are fashionable items. We no longer need them. Apple Watch is not only competing for our wrist with big brand names like Rolex or Omega but it also requires Apple to change its retail strategy — you do not store and sell luxurious watches in the same way you do it with computers. As a result, Apple hired the former CEO of Burberry.

Apple bets on changing a piece of technology that human beings have worn for more than a century. Watches became universally adopted because it provided us with critical information: time. Today, Apple needs to figure out what is the killer app that will make us all shift to smartwatches.

The release of the Apple Watch will be a global experiment. Apple is going to take advantage of its ecosystem. Developers are the ones who will figure out what we can do with an Apple Watch. The best apps will become huge successes, while many others will remain unknown. This Darwinian process also happened when Apple released the iPhone. The release of the Apple Watch is amazing for any entrepreneur, as it offers new business opportunities.

Steve Jobs had an amazing vision when he decided to jump into the mobile phone industry. Yet, he could not imagine the large range of opportunities that Apple has offered to the world.

Some challenges remain. Developers have to create new use cases. There is a need to find things we can do better with a smartwatch than an iPhone.

Apple has to become a strong player in the fashion industry. Adding fashion to technology is likely to make the industry even more volatile.

Last but not least, Apple will have to deal with the gadget aspect of the Apple Watch. At the moment, the smartwatch is mostly a notification center. Experts who have tried the Apple Watch highlights that they have been distracted a lot by the large number of notifications they receive over a day and that the user experience requires a serious learning curve.


I hear a lot of people saying that they will never buy an Apple Watch, or a smartwatch. We should wait to see whether killer apps are going to be found. Keep in mind that Apple is running a large scale experiment. Experiments are the best ways to develop innovation. When you are a startup, it’s easy to run a beta. At Apple’s scale, it means a global launch.

Let me finish on a quote by Chris Dixon, VC at Andreessen Horowitz: