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What Apple Got Wrong with the Apple Watch

…And What They Can Do to Fix It. Learnings After a Year of Studying Users

by Mario Natarelli

Studying a group of people for a year who are trying a new piece of technology (in our case, the hotly-anticipated Apple Watch) reveals some interesting observations. We became steeped in the usage patterns and beliefs of these users, and here is what we learned.

We saw immediate bonding and chemistry between the people and the product when our test group unboxed the watches. The joy and wonder was palpable, and it was love at first sight. Anyone who doubts the power of this needs to see this video.

Six months later, some users were over it, and most were just, “meh.” Like a marriage, we witnessed the initial spark fizzle.  Finally, people came to peace with their new friend and found very specific ways to use the watch. We were fascinated to watch the relationship evolve, rise, fall, and then settle—mimicking a real marriage. Watch the sizzle fade in the video below.

We were most surprised to see the challenges millennials faced with the Apple Watch. This was our biggest and most unexpected finding, and we think it is largely due to the dominance the smartphone plays in their lives and the friction, overlap, and disruption the watch created for them.

You can review more findings in detail and see videos of real users expressing their feeling and thoughts about the device here. Perhaps you may draw different conclusions or connect observations in a different way. Importantly for us these data have formed a clear picture of what we believe Apple missed.

What Apple Got Wrong with the Apple Watch

 

Let’s make it clear that we aren’t interested in bashing one of the most successful brands,  especially because we are long-time admirers and devout users of most of their products. Testers of the watch and users at large have all credited Apple with creating a fantastic piece of design, engineering and software integration. While many have spewed at great lengths about what the watch doesn’t do well enough, it is important to stress that there still isn’t anything remotely close to rivaling it in the wearables category. We posit that history will show the technological leap that Apple has taken with the watch will likely be seen as large as or larger than that of their iPhone.

It is also worth noting that our annual Brand Intimacy Study—the largest study based on tracking and measuring the emotions people feel towards the brands they use—shows that among 6,000 consumers, the Apple brand ranks (unsurprisingly) #1, ahead of brands like BMW and Disney. Despite the fact that Apple is a brand that actually gets more right than most or many (or all) of their competitors, we found at least a few important things they missed with the Apple Watch.

Apple proclaimed this to be their most intimate device, yet their outreach, marketing and attitude toward the watch was and remains consistently aloof and identical to their other products; it is supported with their usual push-oriented media messages.

Users told us it has been radio silence on the watch from Apple. They couldn’t find enough ways to use the watch out in the wild or in the marketplace. Features like Apple Pay or hotel door/car access haven’t yet been fully realized.

The app community seemingly stalled on the watch, and what did Apple do to inject some inspiration or to incentivize developers to create more? They offered an upgraded Apple TV platform to attract developers.

What Apple took for granted in the marketing, support, and outreach for this unique device was that it could only be supported with similar methods as their roster of other products. Apple has built the most valuable and intimate brand by pioneering product-based marketing. Steve Jobs was driven by the belief that the best marketing followed or was subservient to the product (design/hardware/software) itself. The Apple Watch may be the first product that bridges a new and more intimate space with consumers. Thus, it requires a whole new paradigm of marketing to support it. Can Apple innovate their marketing to match their products? Will intimate devices require more relationship-oriented marketing?

Some additional thought starters for Apple are as follows:

AVON CALLING: The Apple stores are incredible retail environments that have redefined standards on many levels. However, they may be less than ideal environments for the watch buyer. Why can’t Apple geniuses hold house gatherings with early adopters to try the watch out in a living room setting? Guiding and coaching users on tips and tricks and revealing how the watch would function best in a home environment.

THRIVE IN THE WILD: Like many Apple devices, the watch isn’t designed to play nice in the wider ecosystem of devices, peripherals and technologies. The watch really needs to connect better to payment terminals, door/lock access systems and more. If you’ve ever tried to contort your body at TSA check-ins or airline gates to get your watch through the scanners, you will know what we mean. Given Apple’s vast resources, couldn’t they have found both surgical and viral ways to have the watch connect better to the things that move us or enable us in the world?

INTIMACY MEANS DOUBLING DOWN: We’ve seen in other research studies that the closer a product gets to a person’s, the greater the level of trust that consumers need to have in a brand. Apple saw the intimate power of their device—they even promoted it as “our most intimate device”—yet they missed that the company and brand that delivers it need to go further than simply pushing the product. They left early adopters without any support. Without much follow-up, incentive, prodding, or cajoling, they seemed more interested in moving on to the next generation. Even smart thermostats try to reach out to you to remind you of your energy savings; couldn’t a watch that knows more about me than my thermostat reach out and try to enhance my life more?

Apple got the hard part right. By leveraging an immense amount of R&D, design, and engineering talent, they created a spellbinding and nearly seamless first generation device. However, despite the fact that the company that is most known for effective marketing and sales, their successful retail stores and some of the most iconic marketing of our generation, Apple missed the chance to extend and reach their new intimate users in more intimate ways. Version 2.0 of the Apple Watch will undoubtedly bring many phenomenal product improvements. It will be interesting if they also enhance the marketing.

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