The Book of Genesis tells us that after God created day and night, he set the lights in the sky, including the two great lights of the sun and moon, “to serve at signs to mark the sacred times, and days and years.” (1:14). Thus, from the beginning of Creation, God gave us a calendar and a way of observing the passage of time and seasons. Time is not merely an abstraction, but rather a gift given by God to help us order ourselves and our lives.
Since creation, man has attempted to build evermore complex and accurate devices to measure time, and along the way the wristwatch has taken its place to aid people in this task.
I own two timepieces with automatic movements — one Swiss, one German. An automatic movement is an engineering triumph. Long before the days of perfectly clean, dust-free, hypostatic rooms used to assemble hard drives and computer components, Swiss watchmakers were sitting at their work tables with a view of the Alps, with their jeweler’s loupes trained upon the minute details of their labor, undertaking the painstaking work of crafting marvels wrought by the minds of men.
A nice watch is a piece of art and a valuable tool, befitting the importance of time in our life. Artisans make timepieces. By hand. Using movements and materials designed over generations of development and care. Many such timepieces are tiny artworks. And they borrow their heritage from clocks and moving calendars built on a much larger scale for church towers and civic edifices, scaling timekeeping from a public function to the personal level.
Timepieces are More than “Brand” or “Cost”
Some people reduce a watch to either (a) the brand emblazoned on the face or the logo impressed upon the clasp or (b) a thing that tells the time. In either case, it’s about the brand or the cost to these folks, and not necessarily the tiny mechanical perfection within, beating out seconds and minutes with tremendous accuracy.
That’s why, even for Swiss makers such as TAG Hauer, Omega, etc., there are branded models (not much cheaper) that offer quartz movements. “Just as accurate” or “Nobody looks inside” are the pro arguments.
But nothing could be more absurd, except perhaps purchasing a Ferrari with a Toyota engine under the hood. “It still gets you where you want to go,” idiots will proclaim, even though such an automobile ceases to be the real thing, while the true enthusiasts will conclude that without a Ferrari engine, it’s just a car with a fancy shell.
Apple should understand this. Ever since Steve Jobs’ obsession with messy solder on the motherboard of the Apple II, the company has had a focus on engineering well-crafted products, not just assembling parts together to make a whole. Its attention to detail (albeit on a mass-production, factory-oriented scale) has always been a hallmark in the consumer electronics industry. Their things are well-made, and last longer than industry averages.
The Apple Watch
It’s somewhat ironic that the company associated with the fruit in the Garden of Eden has reached back to creation itself in developing its next product. But just as Eve was deceived in eating of the fruit, we would do well to observe the cautions of the Apple Watch set for release in April. I believe that Apple has taken too big a bite, and its Watch will not succeed at market, at least at this stage of development.
The first big reason is pricing. There’s currently an article on MacRumors that tries to offer some analysis on pricing, which has not yet been confirmed by Apple; to date, the only official statement indicates that “base models” will “start” at $349. And it’s unclear whether you can get an Apple Watch AND band at that price. It’s possible that you have to spend at least $400 or more to get the thing on your wrist.
There are three “lines” of the first generation of the Apple Watch, and a range of wristbands made from different materials. Note that the “guts” of the watch do not appear to differ according to which model is chosen; only the external materials used in manufacture will vary. The “base model” will feature an aluminum housing while the fanciest model will be available in 18K gold, among other finishes. Sapphire crystals will appear on at least the mid and high end models.
According to the article on pricing linked above, the price of the gold/most expensive model of the Apple Watch could easily top $5,000, even $10,000.
In light of pricing, the second big reason the Apple Watch will not be a success is the failure to deliver an heirloom product. All watches keep time. The reason that you buy a $5,000 watch rather than a $50 watch is not purely because the $5,000 watch keeps better time, but because it is made with the type of care and materials that make it worth keeping for years and years, or forever.
But an Apple Watch, even one made using the same high-quality materials as a gold Rolex, will never be an heirloom.
It will never be an heirloom or have the same appeal as a traditional timepiece because:
(a) It is inevitable that regardless of whether the device succeeds on the market, there will be second, third and fourth generation products offering upgraded features, better chipsets, more memory, more communications ability, better sensors, and longer battery life. If you went out and bought an original iPhone in 18K gold, only to see the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4s, come out every year or so thereafter, how stupid would you feel? Who wants to bet that there will be no way to upgrade the original Apple Watch?
(b) an Apple Watch will likely need to be recharged at least every day (just like your phone), and will contain a battery with a finite number of charge cycles. There has been no indication from Apple whether battery replacements will even be offered. Even if a replacement is offered, it will be vastly more costly than a watch battery from the drug store. Once the battery dies after an hour on your wrist, your heirloom is a big hunk of crap unless you buy a new (expensive) battery. At some point ten or fifteen years down the line, you won’t be able to find the battery anymore.
(c) an Apple Watch requires that you own an iPhone (and keep it in proximity to the watch) in order for it to function. Will the original Apple Watch work with your iPhone 11 (five years from now)? Or will you have to carry your 7s for time immemorial?
(d) Even a mid-priced Swiss timepiece is almost always extremely resistant to the elements. For example, Omega makes divers, submariners, and has even supplied wristwatches for astronauts to wear in space, after rigorously testing their watches in trials of extreme temperature, altitude, and pressure. Even if the Apple Watch is “water resistant”, you can bet that taking it to 3 atmospheres will void the warranty, and brick your wrist.
In contrast, a good Swiss timepiece with an automatic movement requires no batteries, and if you wear it every day, never needs winding. Assuming you “tune it up” by getting it serviced every few years (or i.e., when it isn’t keeping accurate time as well), it will last forever. As one Swiss watchmaker proudly proclaims, you don’t actually own such a timepiece; you merely take care of it for the next generation.
If you find yourself playing the role of Tom Hanks in Castaway, assuming your automatic timepiece survives the plane crash and makes it to shore with you, you’ll continue to know the time and day until you get rescued. In contrast, if you were wearing the Apple Watch, you’ll know for about 36 hours, if the watch survived at all, but after that it’ll be as communicative (and expressive) as Wilson.
There will be plenty of first adopters. Just don’t be one of them.