Apple’s new watch made lots of headlines on Wednesday – but for all the wrong reasons.
The latest version of the company’s wrist-worn gadget, the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE, was found to have an embarrassing glitch.
It turns out that the watch’s LTE cellular connectivity – which is supposed to let users make phone calls directly from their wrists, and which Apple has touted as a selling point – doesn’t always work very well. (Actually, it’s a bug with the watch’s WiFi, but the end result is the same.)
Apple is working on a fix, which will be delivered in a future software release, an Apple representative told Business Insider.
But the issues with Apple's new watch don't stop at bad reviews, inconsistent wireless, or even a short battery life. (It can manage only an hour of talk time when using LTE.)
The problem with the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE is that it's a sign that Apple has lost sight of the principle that led to its meteoric rise: Apple doesn't sell technology for technology's sake - it figures out what people want to do (even when people don't know it themselves) and provides technology to make it possible.
"Part of the hardest thing about coming up with new products is to figure out a really cool set of technologies that you can implement it with and make it easy, but also figuring out something that people want to do," Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO, once said. "We've all seen products that have come out that have been interesting but just fall on their face because not enough people want to do them."
Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, calls this the "jobs to be done" theory. In an oversimplified nutshell: Consumers don't buy technologies or products but pick things that can complete specific jobs for them.
And recently, at least one Wall Street analyst has suggested that Apple has lost its ability to find new jobs to be done.
"Jony Ive's Industrial Design Group has shown a knack for identifying jobs even before consumers know of their need," the UBS analyst Steven Milunovich wrote last year, referring to Apple's chief design officer. "The iPod's '1,000 songs in your pocket' was an example. Moreover, Apple's functional organization and metrics appear to align with the jobs to be done approach. Still, the company seems to be struggling to identify the jobs for Apple Watch and Apple Pay."
Beyond beach bums
So what's the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE's job?
Here's the marketing copy Apple has on its website:
"Answer a call from your surfboard. Ask Siri to send a message. Stream your favorite songs on your run. And do it all while leaving your phone behind."
Are these really jobs that consumers are trying to fill? "Hardcore surfers who want to answer pressing business calls in the ocean" seems like a niche.
Siri can already send a message from an iPhone, and there isn't a ton of evidence that that's a popular feature on the phone anyway. Having the ability to leave your phone at home is a big deal for runners, but that's still a subset of the population.
Here's how Apple's chief operating officer, Jeff Williams, introduced the new watch earlier this month:
"Now you have the freedom to go anywhere with just your Apple Watch. This has been our vision from the very beginning, and we believe built-in cellular makes Series 3 the ultimate expression of Apple Watch. Now you can go for a run with just your watch and still be connected. You can leave your phone when you go to the beach or just run a quick errand. And it's really nice to know you can be reached if needed while staying in the moment ...
"For Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, we developed a custom wireless chip we call W2. There's nothing else like it - it delivers up to 85% faster WiFi while being 50% more power efficient for both Bluetooth and WiFi. And we've added a barometric altimeter, so now you get flights of stairs climbed and elevation gains after a workout. We're also releasing an app for developers. This can be great for skiing and snowboarding acts.
"Of course, the biggest challenge of all was adding cellular. You see, our little watch is already packed, and you have to add antennas, radios, power amplifiers, a SIM card. And if you don't do it right, it gets so big it looks like a house-arrest bracelet, and you're not going to want to wear it."
Aside from this use case that Apple keeps repeating that involves a beach bum who also needs to pick up important calls from the shore, the main sales pitch is how technologically impressive the device is.
Selling the wrong thing
Sure, it's an achievement that Apple figured out how to make LTE wireless work on a such a small device and managed to do it with the same-size battery as the previous, non-LTE model. But most people don't buy $400 gadgets because the cellular chip is so technically impressive.
One hour of "talk time" battery life may be a huge accomplishment given how power hungry an LTE modem is. But for the average consumer, one hour of talk time sounds like a weakness, not a selling point.
The potential of the Apple Watch is easy to see. If it didn't have any battery issues, and if it were slightly more powerful, it's easy to imagine it replacing a phone for some people. If it gets packed with more-advanced sensors, it could become a critical tool that everyone needs to keep an informed eye on their health. And someday, if technology breaks the right way, you could leave your keys at home and use your watch as your universal ID to do everything from starting your car to unlocking the door at the office.
But consumers don't buy the potential of a product - they buy it to do a specific job today. And adding LTE to the Apple Watch doesn't really solve any additional use cases, except maybe for a runner.
Instead, it seems as if Apple released this cellular watch because it was on a hardware roadmap from two years ago - "this has been our vision from the very beginning" - and because it could.
And that's ultimately a much bigger problem with the Apple Watch than some prerelease glitches.