Essays on Technology and Culture

The Problem with Apple’s Price Tag Cheerleaders

Mobile computing analyst Brian S. Hall, of Apple Boo Boo makes a good point about the pricing talk around Apple Watch: [1]

As Tim Cook’s Apple has gone even more upscale, emphasizing high-fashion and literally gold adornments, eagerly adopting the Vertu business model and taking it global, I have noted a rising tendency by the cheerleader blogs to sneer and mock those who don’t choose Apple.

Thing is, Apple may not necessarily be the right choice for everyone.


If there’s one thing that’s rubbed me the wrong way about the endless speculation over the high-end of Apple Watch pricing, it’s the subtext that the absurd sticker price for gold Apple Watches is some sort of boon to Apple in its competition with the other smartwatch players, if not the industry as a whole. Shame on Motorola for not offering some multi-thousand dollar Android Wear smartwatch in gold, right? Even John Gruber’s written eye-rolling over a covered micro-USB port on the back of Sony’s latest smartwatch comes from that same smug place. There’s something very useful about being able to charge your device with a standard cable you can get for a couple bucks at the gas station, even if it’s less elegant than a magnetic charging cable.

The griping over Apple having the audacity to sell a multi-thousand dollar watch is just as obnoxious. Remember, Apple’s entry level price for the Watch, $349, is only $100 more than the Moto 360. Of course, even a $99 Pebble is out of reach for many people, too. But, Apple’s not in danger of becoming Vertu any time soon. If the iPhone 7 comes in a $40,000 18-karet Rose Gold option to match the Apple Watch 3, with a $10,000 alligator leather case option, then I’ll worry. Apple Watch is one product, it’s untested, and it’s unknown. It’s a big, expensive experiment to see if Apple can use fashion to put a (potentially) useful gizmo on people’s wrists, and we don’t know how it will turn out.

I don’t agree with Brian’s assessment in a separate piece that Apple Watch is “a showpiece. And you buy it to show it off.” Having used a Pebble for the better part of a month, I find there’s something to this wearables/smartwatch thing, even if it’s difficult to articulate. (And even if the Pebble’s functionality on iOS is crippled.) The functionality a smartwatch provides isn’t essential, but it is useful. How do you communicate the utility of a new kind of device to a new audience who neither knows, nor cares, about it?

I know it’s hard to explain why I haven’t yet shoved my Pebble in a drawer until the new OS comes out. I’m trying, though, and hope to have something to say about it in a future essay. It’s hard to understand the utility of a wearable device until you’ve tried one. This is the hurdle that smartwatch makers need to overcome. The fashion-focused marketing of Apple Watch might end up clever in retrospect: putting something of great, but hard to explain utility on people’s wrists through the sheer power of fashionability. It’s a crazy move, and who knows if it will work? It’s possible, though, that once someone straps Apple Watch on their wrist, no matter what model, they’ll find their reasons to keep it on there change from fashion to utility.

Or, they’ll take it back to the store in a week and get their money back. We don’t know yet.

Whatever happens with Apple Watch and it’s crazy price tags, Brian’s fundamental point remains:

Pull back any judgments you have on those who don’t have the same as you.

Whether someone has a $10,000 Apple Watch Edition, a $349 Apple Watch Sport, a $199 Android Wear gizmo, or a $99 Pebble, or a free-with-contract prepaid flip phone and no smartwatch, they probably have a valid reason for their choice. Us Apple people need to stop being such jerks about how good the company we give money to is, and how terrible everyone else is. It’s helping nobody.

  1. Hat tip to Jordan Cooper for the link.  ↩