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Defining the smartwatch: Lessons from Apple Watch

Posted: 10 Jun 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple? smartwatch? Apple Watch? iPhone? Internet?

So we will be talking about the smartwatch. But before that, let's take a look at the previous game-changer from Apple, the iPhone. To start things off, with iPhone, Apple wasn't making a phone. It was creating a new product category whose main purpose was a great Internet connection on a handset.

I don't mean to pile on, but think with me for a moment about what we've learned, if anything, about smartwatches since April, when Apple launched its Apple Watch online.


As I see it, Apple Watch's contribution to the global electronics industry is the teachable moment it has offered on how to define a brand new product category.

I'm not saying that Apple Watch has nailed the smartwatch. Many consumers are still weighing its stylish design and clever interface against its one-day battery life and expensive price tag.

Compared to the cost and ingenuity needed to design the new version of a pre-determined product category, defining a whole new category from scratch is, obviously, much harder.

But Apple did it once with the smartphone, when iPhone pretty much established a standard that everyone else now mimics. The question is, can Apple do it again?

Traveling in China last month, I found many people, chip designers, system OEMs and industry analysts, in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing furiously debating over their own definitions of the smartwatch.

Instead of taking a wait-and-see attitude, like most of us jaded folks here in the United States would do, to see how well Apple Watch sells, many of my Chinese acquaintances are ready to damn the market and go full speed ahead. I found this refreshing.

Their debate ranged from a controversy over the smartwatch face (round or square?) to whether a smartwatch should be a self-contained smartphone or its accessary.

At first, I didn't understand their concern about the shape of a smartwatch's face. Later, I realised that the debate was a much more basic discussion about form matching function.

One chip executive in Beijing who spoke on condition of anonymity told me, "You know, Junko, I'm just a chip designer. I don't really know what kind of a smartwatch people like."

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