In the past, Apple has relied on specialist companies to ’bling’ up its devices for the super-rich, who’ll pretty much put down a deposit on anything the slightest bit golden. There are a number of customization companies which will switch out device casings with precious metals and alloys and encrust with precious stones. Apple obviously fancies a slice of that action and has a version of its new Apple Watch due to retail for £13,500 at the end of April. This is pricey for sure, but not nearly as pricey as the £250,000+ mechanical super-watches made by Urwerk, Richard Mille or Greubel Forsey. It is firmly aimed at the city banker though who would be quite happy to splash a similar amount on a Rolex. The major difference is that a mostly hand-made Swiss watch is expected to last for and be handed down for generations, while total battery life and technology obsolescence make an Apple Watch sort of non-functional within 10 years or so...
Apple is using the age old luxury formula of pricing exclusivity - meaning you at least double up your costs of manufacture and then add a zero or two onto the end. It’s something that Hermès has been doing for night on two centuries now. In fact Mulberry customers were confronted by a similar strategy (ex-Hermès executive took the reins) when the average cost of bags pretty much doubled overnight a couple of years ago. Other luxury brands deploy ridiculously expensive variants for sake of aspiration, and to make customers at the lower end of the scale think that they’re getting a slice of something quite improbably out of reach.
Of course when you break down the Apple Watch components and real cost of materials and manufacture, the total is nowhere near the £13,500 mark, and these components are not largely finished and assembled by hand like their high-grade analogue counterparts, it is really just another kind of profiteering. Not that I begrudge Apple its good fortune, but I have to question their humanist and humanitarian credentials. They started off as a small company fighting to compete against enormous super-corporations, they were ’of the people and for the people’ to a large degree. This year saw Apple post the largest ever recorded quarterly profits of no less than $18 billion dollars (funnily 18 is also the quoted hours of battery life for the Apple Watch). Yet it does not really seem that Apple is properly giving back to the consumers that helped it reach its somewhat unassailable market position. Apple’s prices keep creeping up and up, as do their profits.
In terms of wearable tech, all the Android Wear watches to-date have only managed to sell a total of 800,000 units in the last 5 or so years and Pebble has sold just over one million, yet Apple is hoping to shift nigh on 20 million units of its new Apple Watch by the end of the year. If the high price of watches was not bad enough, consider that some of the basic metal straps (no precious metals!) cost more than the entry level watches - the Steel Link Bracelet strap is due to sell for £379 - which is more than the £299 for 38mm Sports or £339 for the 42mm Sports Watch - how can that be - the strap costs more than the watch!!!???
For sake of quantifying this degree of lunacy, I have set out the different price points as follows:
Price range for standard watch £479 - £898 (My top of the range iPhone 6 PLus cost £789)
Strap variations are for Sports Band, or Classic and Modern Leather Buckles, no pure gold ones yet, room for additions ...
Funny thing is, I quite like the look of the watch, and even what it offers at this early stage - especially the fitness / health / movement tracking, but in my preferred combination - Steel + Milanese Loop Strap, it would set me back £648 - which is no lightweight purchasing decision. I have owned and worn, still wear a number of watches, and feel that even strengthened, the aluminium version will be overly prone to scratches and scuffs. If you’re going to make an investment, you better invest in something that will last (at least a few years) and hold its looks, even when a new version arrives in 18 months or similar.
Early reports are that even though crown and button combination are slick and precise, the small size of the screen makes selecting apps and certain functions difficult. Brother Markus aims to be in the first wave of adopters, I’ve yet to make up my mind fully...
The other major release was the new even thinner and lighter than ’Air’ MacBook, which initially looked like an amazing proposition - being thinner and lighter (0.92 kg) and with a retina screen - all MacBook Air trouncing qualities. But when you read the fineprint, you find out that the now seemingly old-fashioned Air has at least one ace up its sleeve by way of better processor options. I had been waiting an eternity for a Retina MacBook Air, and it seems this will be the nearest equivalent. Apple never goes the whole way and gives you everything you need though, it always seems to leave you wanting in one or more departments. With the Air you can at least plug it in and charge your iPhone at the same time while you’re on the hop, the new MacBook has only the one port, so that essential utility is no longer open to you... unless you buy a £65 port extender (HDMI or VGA version)
I will most likely opt for a new MacBook in 1.1 Ghz ’Space Grey’, it will mostly be used for commuter browsing, meeting attendance, training and presentation, and I will still rely on my iMac for heavy lifting / Photoshop duties etc.
After Apple’s record-breaking profits I kind of expected them to be in a slightly more generous mood than was the case. No doubt there will be updated and improved versions of the Apple Watch appearing relatively soon, and there is always a risk in being amongst the earliest adopters. I really wish Apple had set their price points more favourably to facilitate a quicker decision making process. I was kind of expecting the standard / middle Watch to be in the £500 ballpark, I suppose £650 is not too much of a stretch from that. It will very much be horses for courses here, and this Watch is one product that certainly won’t appeal to all.