Most people that know me well, know that I am not a huge fan of the Olympics. The reasons for this are vast but the event never moved the proverbial needle for me. However, when Usain Bolt was breaking track and field records for fun, I was hooked. He was just so clearly better than everyone else, and he knew it. Many times in athletics, there is a debate to be had about who is the better athlete (such as LeBron James versus Michael Jordan), but during Usain Bolt’s prime, there was no question about who the greatest sprinter in the world was.
This level of dominance is what I think of when the Apple Watch is brought up in conversation. Much like Google and Kleenex have become the de facto solutions for web searches and facial tissue respectively, the Apple Watch has become the immediate go-to for a smartwatch. Despite a plethora of alternatives in the market, the Apple Watch is still the watch to beat and no company has come close. It is in this context that Apple has released the Apple Watch Series 6, an iterative update over last year’s Series 5 that reasserts a simple fact: the Apple Watch is the only smartwatch that matters.
There is something to be said for staying the course and making improvements to a product. Jabra comes to mind here with their Elite series wireless earbuds. Jabra has steadily been improving the experience over the years and what has resulted is that their earbuds often make recommendation lists. In the world of smartwatches, this is where Apple finds itself. With every release of a new Apple Watch, there are modest improvements to turn this device into the most well-rounded solution in the category.
As it currently stands, the Apple Watch is the best watch for a combination of notifications, fitness, and wellness tracking. This watch has become the natural accessory to the iPhone in a way that Google has not been able to capture with WearOS and in a way that Fitbit will never be able to do. This watch is part of the entire iOS experience as opposed to a bolted-on addition that the Samsung watch ecosystem feels like. There is a unification of user interface and experience that seems to just fit and feel thoughtful.
Whenever a review comes out about a new Fitbit, Galaxy Watch, or WearOS device there is always a “yeah but” moment. It’s a great watch but there are performance issues, or it is a great watch but the battery does not last all day, and so on. These sorts of issues do not appear with the Apple Watch. The exclusivity of the Apple ecosystem is the reason why it is criticized, and nothing else. Years ago I suggested that the reason why Apple has such a dominating lead in the tablet space is that they are the only company that cares about these devices, where it is more than an afterthought.
This same logic can be said of their watch division. Apple makes their watch with the whole package in mind and dedicates as much attention to their wearable tech as they do their smartphone. The same cannot be said of Samsung and Google’s efforts where their wearable efforts are lazy at best and negligent at worst. The Apple Watch entered the market as a companion for notifications for the iPhone to a reliable health tracker as well as a fashion accessory. It is this commitment to the product that makes Apple’s watch stand out.
Fashion and Fitness
There is an element of range to the Apple Watch in 2020. On one hand, it is a great all-around watch that displays notifications, is a great workout companion, and even has added health features like a blood oxygen sensor and EKG monitor. Then there is the fashion side of the Apple Watch that features stainless steel construction and premium leather bands. This distinction creates an aesthetic of fashion forward thinking in combination with being a powerful piece of technology.
And it is this diversity that sets it apart from the competition in the space. The Apple Watch can be a blatant tech gadget with a wacky watch face and at the same time, it can be an elegant solution that feels like a classic timepiece reimagined. This is where other watches falter and the Apple Watch thrives. A Fitbit watch for instance will always look like a piece of tech, like a tool that is designed to measure your step counts. Samsung’s Galaxy watches while very powerful has always been blatantly obvious at being pieces of technology.
It is this diversity of appeal that has helped to cultivate a market of aftermarket cases and watch bands to enhance the visual look of the Apple Watch. Designer clothing companies such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton have been making custom Apple Watch bands for a few generations, whereas this type of option is not available for other smartwatch makers. Quite often we will see situations where there is a resistance to new tech and a happy medium is looking to be reached.
Years ago in the dawn of the smartphone, this was the case. It is the reason that the iPhone sold so well. Where the Palm Centro’s and Blackberry’s of the world screamed business and the feature phones of the era were not powerful enough, the iPhone offered a happy medium. A smartphone experience without the intimidation of it looking like a CEO’s device. The iPhone felt powerful yet approachable, and this is the same formula that Apple is implementing with its smartwatch strategy. And it is working.
The Lifestyle Approach
While Apple has taken the fashion approach for its watches, it has also taken the fitness approach as well. There is an argument to be made that Fitbit does workout-tracking better and that Garmin is the best tool for people that are serious about running. However, Apple does those fitness-centric features well enough in addition to being a robust smartphone companion that that is good enough.
Apple long ago realized that people that were looking for incredibly accurate health data are a very small niche. Most people wanted to keep track of their steps, check their heart rate, and compete with their friends who also use that same watch. Everything else is mostly fluff. This is where they were correct. There is an assumption by many in tech that people want more than they truthfully want. We see this in laptop and phone analysis, where higher processors and loads of RAM are coveted when most people that are buying these items are indifferent.
Apple has always known this and has built a consumer electronics juggernaut on the back of this idea. Of making consumer technology that is approachable and functional while sparing the nitty-gritty details. The marketing of the Apple Watch is proof positive of this approach. Apple has positioned this as the perfect companion to the iPhone, as the regular wristwatch with more functionality. Not as a computer on your wrist, even if that is what it is.
The company’s dedication to the WatchOS platform and the relationship between all Apple devices and this watch is what makes them stand out from mediocre WearOS offerings and whatever Galaxy Watch Samsung comes up with. Much how Apple made AirPods an integrated part of the entire Apple experience, the Watch fills a similar need. It is the only smartwatch that matters because it is the only one that feels natural in the product line up. The Apple Watch Series 6 is just further proof of this reality.