At the risk of sounding cliché, Apple has spent the last decade and-a-half (more, really) preparing for the release of a product like the Apple Watch.
In 1998, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive introduced their first full-fledged collaboration with the introduction of the iMac. The Bondi Blue bubble of CRT glass and molded plastic became the symbol for “Think Different” in practice rather than simple philosophy. As a computer, it made great strides in simplicity, promotion of the USB standard, and in proving that not all the magic had gone from Apple. But more than that—or any other trait it might be known for—the iMac was a style device.
For years, PC companies tried and failed to replicate the iMac’s style with slapdash plastic inserts in fuchsia and teal and other fantastically 90’s colors. They checked the “flashy colors” box, and then stared stupidly as Apple became the company of trendy design while they sold millions of personality-free commodity boxes in plastic plate mail to businesses around the world. The whole process informed those who paid attention that Apple, the new Apple at the time, understood style in a way that other tech companies just plain did not.
They rode that wave through the gorgeous but flawed Titanium PowerBook and G4 Cube, had a bit of mainstream success with the white iBook, and leveraged it like crazy on a new (for Apple, that is) device category called the iPod. But they didn’t stop there. The iPod took another step that further helped to shape the company: miniaturization.
At the time, Apple was not the company making the parts that filled the little silver and white brick that could hold your entire music collection. But they learned from those who did provide the parts by designing the interiors, going on to press that brick thinner and thinner until now even the two year old iPod Touch seems almost impossibly thin.
With the iPod, Apple became a household name in a way it simply hadn’t been before. Suddenly, it was “cool” to buy and use something from Apple. And not in the way the the geeks (or some of us, anyway) had always thought Apple stuff was cool (remember the Newton?) but in the way that ordinary people think of cool. Apple products became a style symbol for everyone when they had only before been a design symbol for those who cared to look.
You know where this is going.
Then the iPhone dropped, and Apple clarified what the company could be even further. It was a facet they had shown in fits and starts through their history, but never in quite the same quantity and quality as with the first iPhone. And that facet was technology. Not just speed-bumped, this is our latest and greatest but it’ll be laughably outdated in three months, technology. The iPhone brought real, holy crap, I didn’t even know that was possible, tech. The kind that we’ve all gotten used to by know, as Apple fills phone after phone with high quality cameras, touch sensitive glass, fingerprint scanners, and systems on a chip.
So think about that for a moment and allow me the indulgence of this next paragraph.
Three things. Style, miniaturization, and technology. Each of these at a level that the competition shamelessly strives toward but rarely achieves. Style. Miniaturization. And technology.
Fill in the blank. I know you can.
Apple is uniquely prepared for wearables. And I’ve seen articles that decree it is their style that makes it possible, that no tech company gets style in a way that could translate over into fashion. No company except Apple. I’ve listened to podcasts that suggest it’s Apple ability to shrink things down (into a whole computer on a chip! Whatever that means) that makes them especially equipped for breaking open the wearable market in a way that transcends gadget geeks (of which I am unabashedly one). And some say that it’s their tenacious pursuit (and achievements) of technology that will propel them into a category that many think is unnecessary.
On top of all that, Apple has spent at least since the introduction of the iPad working with leather and other materials in their cases, making mistakes, learning and growing. They’ve introduced an OS so simple to use that the market demanded more functionality not because the system didn’t accomplish the task but because users desperately wanted to use it for more and more of their daily computing needs.
What few commentators seem to be saying is that sometimes two plus two can equal five; that the sum of the parts is lesser than the value of the whole; that despite checking every conceivable box on every conceivable multi-column spreadsheet on every imaginable tech website, the competition will likely come up confused, defensive, and above all irate when the Apple Watch creates a category that they think they already started.