The Apple Watch Experience
At 12:01am PDT on April 10th, Apple started accepting preorders for their first new product category in 5 years, the Apple Watch. This is the first product that has been released without any guidance from Steve Jobs, so obviously the world is watching this product release closer than any others from Apple in recent history (no pun intended).
I am not going to write about whether or not I think the product is a success or failure, instead, this post will focus on how Apple, specifically the Apple Store, has changed due to this product.
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, admits that the Apple Watch is the most personal product they have ever created. Unlike any other Apple product, you will be wearing it everyday where it’s visible to everyone. It has to not only look good but also reflect your personal style. This is not an easy task - especially for a computer company.
Apple knew it was getting into a category that it has not had much experience in - fashion. Apple has always been associated with fashion and wealth, but the watch is their first product that is required to be worn by their customers so obviously it needs to be fashionable if they expect anyone other than tech enthusiasts to wear it. To help them enter the fashion industry they made two very important hires. The first was the CEO of Burberry, the British fashion company, Angela Ahrendts. Angela stepped down as CEO of Burberry and joined Apple as the Vice President of Retail. The second hire was Patrick Pruniaux, former VP of sales of luxury Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer. His official title at Apple is Senior Director of Special Projects; he is speculated to be working closely with the Apple Watch marketing and sales team.
Usually with Apples products you only have two choices to make when buying a product (color and storage). Most people don’t have to see the silver iPhone in person to know that they want it over the gold and Space Gray iPhone. The Apple Watch is different - and rightfully so. There are many choices that have to be made when choosing an Apple Watch:
1. First you have to decide what metal you prefer
2. Then you have to decide what color of metal you want
◦ Silver aluminum or Space Gray aluminum
◦ Silver stainless steel or black stainless steel
◦ Yellow gold or rose gold
3. Next you have to find what size watch fits you the best
4. Lastly you have to select your watch band
◦ There are a total of 20 different bands
This is not Apple’s usual simplistic approach. However, in my opinion, I think it is the correct one. With all of the different options you can more than likely find a watch that fits your style. I understand that some will not find any of the watches to be their style, and that’s fine, but it’s clear that Apple has made a tremendous amount of effort in order to appeal to a wide audience - which is uncharacteristic of them. Apple is known for designing what they believe is the best and giving the consumer little customization (this is why some people prefer the Android operating system).
In order to find out which Apple Watch fits you best, Apple allows customers to make private 15 minute appointments at their local Apple Store to try on various Apple Watches. To do this you simply book an appointment online (similar to how you would for a Genius bar appointment).
On April 10th I made an appointment for 10:00am. At 9:45am I arrived at the Apple Store. I was quickly greeted by an employee at the front door that told me someone would be with me shortly and to look around at the watches on display while I waited.
The Apple Watches were displayed in a wooden table underneath glass - you were unable to touch these. They had all 38 models displayed in two rows organized by the three collections (Apple Watch Sport [aluminum], Apple Watch [stainless steel], and Apple Watch Edition [gold]) and the sizes (38mm in one row and 42mm in the other row).
Behind the display case were Apple Watches that you could interact with. It was running a fully functional operating system (the only thing it was missing was third party apps). You could spend as much time as you wanted with the watch (you only need to make an appointment if you wanted to try on a watch). At 10:02am an Apple Watch Specialist walked up to me and introduced herself.
“Hello, you must be Zach. My name is Jessica, I’ll be fitting you today.”
Pay attention to that wording: fitting. I could already tell that this was going to be a different experience than buying a computer or phone. We walked over to the display case that was behind us; she wanted to go over the watches before we tried them on. Immediately she started explaining the difference between the metals in each collection.
“Here are the three different Apple Watch Collections; first we have the Apple Watch Sport - this is perfect for anyone with an active lifestyle. The Apple Watch Sport is externally lightweight - which runners love. The aluminum Apple uses is 60% stronger than standard alloys. In addition, it is anodized to help prevent scratches. Lastly it is sprayed with microscopic zirconia beads to create a satin texture finish. Next we have the Apple Watch. The metal we chose to use was stainless steel - which has longed been used in the watch industry. Sapphire crystal, the second hardest transparent substance after diamond, is used to protect the watch’s face. This is a beautiful watch - my personal favorite. Lastly we have the Apple Watch Edition. These watches are 18 karat solid gold. Due to gold being susceptible to scratches our metallurgist engineered an entirely new alloy making the gold we use twice as hard as standard gold.
Does a specific collection appeal to you?”
The amount of detailed information regarding the craftsmanship of each watch was unexpected. It was appreciated, do not misunderstand me, but it was not expected. It was clear that Apple wants to sell this as a watch first and a computer second. On a side note, I appreciate her asking me which collection appealed to me and not assuming I couldn’t afford a $17,000 solid gold watch. I can’t afford it, but I appreciate her not assuming that. When you go into a jewelry store they let you confess how poor you are. The last thing they want to do is assume someone can’t afford something and end up offending a millionaire and losing a sale. Jessica did the exact same thing; she spent just as much time describing the process Apple goes through to make the Apple Watch Edition as she did with the process involved with the Apple Watch Sport that starts at $349.
“At first I was interested in the Apple Watch Edition, but I decided to buy a new car instead. I think I am going to go with the Apple Watch.” I responded.
We walked over to another table that had six dark blue mats, three on each side. There were already four people at the table, each with a representative trying on watches. She unlocked a drawer underneath the table and inside it were rows of Apple Watches with different bands. I told her I was mainly interested in the stainless steel watch with the black sports band so she pulled that one out first. After she pulled out the Apple Watch she immediately wiped it with a cloth. I assume she was ensuring it had no signs of fingerprints from the last try on session. This may seem unnecessary to some but if you have ever tried a watch on in a jewelry store this is a common practice.
“May I put it on for you?”
This is also common at a jewelry stores. As she was putting the watch on my wrist she explained the benefits of the sport band. She explained that it is made from fluoroelastomer (which is just a high quality rubber [but obviously that doesn’t sound as good so they use a fancy 15 letter word instead]) which is very durable, water resistant, soft and light. Even though it is just rubber it really did feel like it was well made. When I was done admiring the watch I went to take and off and was politely interrupted.
“I can take it off for you. If you would like?”
She proceeded to take my watch off, wiped it off with a cloth, and placed it back in the drawer. I tried on a few more bands and the process was the same; she took out the watch, wiped it off, put it on me, took it off, wiped it off again, and placed it back in the drawer. I ended up trying on five watches total.
“Would you like to go over some of the features of the watch?”
The watches I tried on were running demos (non-interactive loops of the watch’s features). The only fully functional watches were on a separate tables. We walked over to the table with the fully functional Apple Watches. She spent the next 15 minutes going over all of the major features of the watch. This was the familiar Apple store experience customers are used to. She explained about how much storage was available, she went over all of the main apps (Siri, Maps, Apple Pay, Messages, etc.), and then explained the important fitness features of the watch. I scheduled a 15 minute private session and I was with Jessica for just over 30 minutes - never feeling rushed. At the end of the appointment she never pressured me to buy a Watch (Apple employees do not work on commission or number of sales) she simply told me I could order a watch online if I decided I wanted one.
I am glad Apple decided to sell the watch in a different way than they sell their computers. As I said before, Apple is selling this as a watch first and a computer second. Selling something you are going to wear everyday as jewelry and not technology, I believe, is the correct approach.