The summer is more than halfway over, but there is something gnawing at me about one of the hottest consumer tech stories of these warm months. The Apple Watch is a flop, and nobody seems to want to admit it.
As of Aug. 14, the Apple Watch will go on sale at Best Buy in Canada, the first non-Apple store to stock the bauble. I don’t recommend buying one for a multitude of reasons under the same theme: It’s just not ready.
The tech press has been remarkably unwilling to say what most of us know to be true about all the existing smartwatches: They are expensive junk.
The Globe and Mail wasn’t one of the chosen outlets to review the Apple Watch before it went on sale to consumers, so we sat on the sidelines reading a half-dozen glowing mega-essays and otherwise huge content dumps from the technology press extol the virtues of the Watch.
The impression you got was of a device that had some interesting features – notifications, fitness tracking! – that were limited by the very nature of the platform: It’s small (and hard to interact with), it’s slow (compared to your phone), and it doesn’t have a lot of content on it.
When I finally got a chance to review the Watch (Apple recently lent me one of the Sport versions to manhandle for a few weeks), I felt like I’d been sold a bill of goods by my colleagues. Every time I wear it I come away deeply disappointed. The Globe ran a piece by Ray Sharma (Why I got rid of my Apple Watch in less than a week) that echoed a lot of my thinking on why it’s not ready. Apple has a long history of first-generation devices that promise more than they deliver, and what the company is exceptionally good at is making the right iterations – particularly with the iPod and the iPhone – to get it right in later versions.
Still, for a long while I thought I must be missing something about this first crack at the Watch. I was, frankly, a little afraid of being that person to write the “hunk of hot garbage” review that would come back to haunt me when the Watch sold its first 10 million devices a few short months later.
But now it seems that’s not going to happen. Apple’s last earnings report showed worrying signs that Watch is not taking off. As I wrote at the time, it may not be dead but it’s doing far worse than the most bullish predictions and worse even than a lot of the negative views. Apple won’t say specifically how many units have shipped, though the educated guess is something close to three million but far fewer than four. Apple, for its part, says it is happy with the progress. Considering this is essentially a companion device to a marketplace of hundreds of millions of iPhone owners, those numbers suggest consumers aren’t racing out the door to buy.
I don’t think anyone has identified the “killer app” of the smartwatch. Apple itself spends a decent amount of time touting the health benefits of the quantified self, but the Watch-as-fitness-band has a few major drawbacks: It is heavy, fragile and much more expensive than other similarly functioning wearables. It’s also laughably inaccurate: My Watch frequently tells me I’ve reached my “stand goals” after I’ve been sitting at my desk all day.