Seven problems facing the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch hasn't been shipping for two months and the available evidence - combined with Apple's reluctance to talk about sales - points to it being a rather unsuccessful launch. But what's actually wrong with the Apple Watch, and is there anything that Apple can - or needs - to do about it?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

The Apple Watch hasn't been shipping for two months and the available evidence -- combined with Apple's reluctance to talk about sales -- points to it being a rather unsuccessful launch.

I chose the word "unsuccessful" deliberately, avoiding more hyperbolic words such as "flop" or failure" because Apple has, based on even the most conservative estimates, sold a few million units. For any other player in the smartwatch market this would be a triumphant success, but for Apple (and its watchers) it's a disappointment.

That might seem unfair, but it's the price of success. Unless a new Apple product sells tens of millions of units per quarter, then that product is looked upon as a hobby (a category the Apple TV finds itself in), and Apple is judged as having stumbled.

And, as we'll examine later, blockbuster sales may not have been Apple's objective with the Apple Watch.

But what's actually wrong with the Apple Watch, and is there anything that Apple can - or needs - to do about it?

Here are seven problems facing the Apple Watch.

#1: The Apple Watch is engineered to be a compromise

Apple didn't build the best possible smartwatch it could. It engineered and built a device that had to be compromised because of the form factor.

A smartwatch is, by virtue of its name, something that is supposed to fit on a wrist, and a regular wrist at that, not the wrist of a 500lb gorilla (like some of us have). That means that when it comes to things like screen size and battery volume, there's not an awful lot of wriggle room. If the Apple Watch was going to be a replacement for the iPhone, then it needs to be a device that's roughly the size, shape, and weight of the iPhone. Not many people want a wrist-mounted device that's that unwieldy, so compromises had to be made.

A tiny display, heavy reliance on the iPhone, and a battery that barely makes it through a day are the compromises that had to be made to make the Apple Watch dream a reality.

#2: It's too expensive

Apple is notorious for wanting to pull in maximum possible profit that the market can sustain, but perhaps asking $350 for a device that cost less than $85 to make was being too grabby.

Doubly so when it's little more than an accessory for the iPhone.

#3: A beautiful product built on a flawed premise

There's no doubt that the Apple Watch is a beautiful device and a marvel of engineering. But it seems from the way that Apple markets the Apple Watch that the whole premise for it is to act as a tool that sits between you and your iPhone so you can use your iPhone less.

This doesn't make sense to me. Surely you buy an iPhone so you can use it, not to have to carry it around so it can act as a hub for another device. If notifications on the iPhone are too clumsy to use, then surely that's a problem with the iPhone and needs to be dealt with by fixing iOS, not by selling owners another device.

What makes matters worse is the fact that many of notifications diverted from the iPhone to the Apple Watch simply tell the user they need to look at their iPhone, which defeats the point.

#4: Too much reliance on Siri

For all the computing power that lies behind Siri, the technology is still as dumb as a sack of bricks.

As much as I want to be able to interact with my iPhone using Siri as opposed to jabbing at the screen with my gorilla fingers, it's just too frustrating to use. Yeah, it's great for the odd joke (go on, if you have an iPhone or iPad, ask Siri when the world will end or what's zero divided by zero), but beyond that Siri is the joke.

#5: The Apple Watch feels like it was rushed to market

It seems a bit strange to me that a product released only a couple of months ago is getting a major software update this fall in the form of watchOS 2. This, and the absence of key features such as Activation Lock, gives me that feeling that the Apple Watch may have been rushed to market to fill a hole.

#6: Fickle fashion market

Apple made an enormous effort to court the fashion market in the run up to the unveiling of the Apple Watch. The message was clear. The Apple Watch wasn't just another bit of tech; it was a piece of jewelry.

Without a doubt that was an interesting play, but the jewelry industry -- especially the high-end market -- is fickle. Fashions can change on a dime, and one of the underlying principals of fashion is that you don't wear the same thing each and every day.

But that was exactly what Apple wanted owners of its smartwatch to do. It's a cornerstone of how Apple wants to integrate the device into people's lives.

Another stumbling block for the Apple Watch is how hard it is to customize the device.

If you own an iPhone or iPad then there are countless ways you can turn that generic, mass manufactured device into something that expresses who you are. With the Apple Watch you're mostly limited to swapping straps, and outside of spare straps that Apple has on offer -- more products that have just rolled off a soulless production line -- you're limited to cheap junk.

You can't even effectively express yourself by customizing the watch face because most of the time it's turned off to save battery power.

#7: The upgrade path is short

I began by pointing out that the Apple Watch is a compromise because it has to fit on a wrist, but this is an issue that goes well beyond this release. It's an issue that's always going to limit Apple's options.

Sure, Apple might be able to add a camera or cellular antenna, and as time goes on it's going to be able to squeeze more battery life out components, but the limitations of the form factor mean that there's not a lot of room for the device to evolve. This is doubly so if Apple wants to maintain a yearly upgrade cadence.

Without regular injections of new products, there's little to keep people interested and buoy sales.

The bottom line

All this starts to make things look bad for the Apple Watch until you realize something crucial -- Apple's success is in no way linked to or dependent upon the success of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch could crash and burn tomorrow and, after a small dip in stock price, Apple would carry on making money just like it was doing before the Apple Watch.

Which is more than can be said of its Android counterparts. Many players in the Android market have been hoping and praying that smartwatches become the next big thing and help them pull in desperately needed revenue. The Apple Watch may have simultaneously taken that hope away while at the same time slurping up a few million sales, further drying the well.

As much as investors -- along with the Apple faithful -- may have hoped that the Apple Watch was "the next big thing," that might never have been the plan in the first place.

What's right (and wrong) with Apple Watch

See also:

Editorial standards