The Watch and the Store

Early last month, I visited a local jewelry store to buy a necklace for my wife. Her birthday is just a few days before Valentine’s Day, and this year, wanted to do something nicer for the occasion than the normal.

I walked in wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and sneakers[1] but was helped immediately by the staff. The woman who helped me was knowledgeable and helpful, and even though I spent shy of four figures, the level of service was phenomenal. We had a conversation about Merri’s likes and dislikes, and walked through some options together.

With the Apple Watch just around the corner, there’s been a lot of talk about how Apple may sell the devices to a new class of customer. Regardless of the price, it’s clear that the gold-enclosed Edition collection is going to be unlike anything the company has sold before.

While many of the products at the Apple Store of today are expensive, the Apple Watch Edition is going to be in a bracket all its own.

I don’t think the current version of the Apple Store is going to adjust well to the high-end Watch. Consider this paragraph from Ian Parker’s profile of Jony Ive in The New Yorker:

The table previously covered with a flat cloth was now uncovered: it was a glass-topped Apple Watch display cabinet, accessible to staff from below, via a descending, motorized flap, like the ramp at the rear of a cargo plane. Ive has begun to work with Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice-president of retail, on a redesign—as yet unannounced—of the Apple Stores. These new spaces will surely become a more natural setting for vitrines filled with gold (and perhaps less welcoming, at least in some corners, to tourists and truants). Apple had not, overnight, become an élite-oriented company—and it would sell seventy-five million iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, many of them in China—but I wondered how rational, and pure of purpose, one can make the design of a V.I.P. area. Ive later told me that he had overheard someone saying, “I’m not going to buy a watch if I can’t stand on carpet.”

While its clear that Apple is doing something to address this, the Apple Store of today isn’t at all the type of store I purchased my wife’s gift in last month.

The Apple Stores are informal at best, and confusing at worst. We’ve all walked into a busy store just to feel frustrated at trying to grab someone’s attention. Even in stores that have a greeter to help pair customers with sales associates, it’s a far cry from the one-on-one, high-touch experience someone looking to buy jewelry is used to having.

If you think Apple isn’t considering every detail of the Apple Watch experience, look no further than this piece for The Financial Times by Nick Foulkes:

Apple is far from the first company to tackle the smart watch, but it is tackling it like only Apple can, with metallurgists, engineers, chemists, mathematicians, tanneries, testing facilities and all the other resources at the disposal of the world’s most valuable company – resources that are then passed through the filter of a design culture shaped by Ive.


Nothing escapes this forensic level of thinking. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing goes uncalculated and untested. Before I leave, Ive holds up the watch’s white outer box. Almost imperceptibly, the bottom begins to move, obeying the law of gravity that pulls it away from its other half. It is graceful, calming… and far from accidental. “We work out what we feel is the optimum time for it to drop and then we back off that and work on the tolerances, and even work on the friction of the materials we use. I mean, that’s fanaticism,” he says, with a little smile. If only more fanatics were like Jony Ive.

The Apple Store is open, loud and mostly lacks the professionalism — the gravity, even — of a high-end jewelry store.

My best guess is that Apple will be turning part of their square footage into some sort of Watch-only, pop-up store-within-a-store, but many of the company’s retail locations — including the one here in Memphis — don’t have a lot of great space for that. Not every store is multi-level, and while the last mini-store is now gone, not every store is all that big.

The staffing question is more interesting, and, perhaps, more complex. If Apple does carve out some private space in all of their stores for high-end clientele, I think the company may have a problem here as well. Many stores I have visited staffed by mostly young people, and while they may be wearing polo shirts these days, there’s no getting around the fact that Apple Stores may just have the wrong kind of sales clerks to sell a $10,000 watch. That’s delicate and awkward, but I think it’s true.

I’m starting to think the Apple Watch Edition will not be available at all of Apple’s stores immediately.[2] I can see it being in select Apple Stores in cities like New York, L.A., London and Paris.

I think there’s a chance that the gold Apple Watches may end up in other high-end retailers as well that are already set up to sell such products. It would be a break from the normal, but so far, the Apple Watch Edition is far from Apple’s norm.

No matter what happens in Retail, Monday should be interesting. I’m excited.

  1. I fully embrace that I am part of the lumbersexual revolution.  ↩

  2. On this week’s Connected, Myke hypothesized that the company may not even reveal the Apple Watch Edition’s price on Monday. That would be really interesting, but he may be right. The price is going dominate headlines, and that’s not what Apple needs out of this press cycle.  ↩

Connected 29: I Do Love a Good Launch Partner

This week, on Connected:

This week, Federico, Myke and Stephen revisit their thoughts on the iPhone 6 Plus and many other things before moving onto March’s Apple Watch event and Federico’s recent health article.

Don't miss the post-show, wherein Casey Liss shows up.

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On the iPhone, pasta and cancer

Federico Viticci:

I've been struggling to get back in shape after chemo.

Since being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma (Stage IV) in late 2011, my life changed. Beyond the psychological and emotional consequences of how cancer affected me, my family, and my relationships, it is undeniable and abundantly clear that cancer took its toll on me from a physical perspective.

Last year, I decided to regain control of my body, my life habits, and my health. I started tracking everything I could about my activities, my exercise routine, the food I ate, and the time I spent working with my iPad instead of walking, sleeping, or enjoying time with my family. Since then, I've made a decision to not let cancer and its consequences define me any longer.

Stop what you are doing and send this to your read-it-later service of choice.

I've known Federico was working on this article, and when I read an early draft, I was blown away. When people think about catastrophic diseases, they often think about the medical stuff, but the truth is things like cancer have long-lasting, wide-reaching ramifications.

Federico tackled these things head on, using technology to improve his post-chemo life. His story is an inspiring and touching article that blends hard work and determination with apps and services in a way that only the iPhone makes possible.

Future Classics: the black MacBook

In my “Future Classics” series, I try to guess what current-era Apple products may become collectable in the future. My hobbies are admittedly weird.

Announced in 2006 to replace the iBook G4, the MacBook was an entirely new machine.

Powered by an Intel processor, the notebook featured a 13.3-inch glossy display and an unique chiclet-style keyboard in an all-new new case that was thinner than the 12-inch[1] and 14-inch[2] iBook before it.

In addition to the white plastic that was all the rage in 2006, the MacBook could be purchased in a different color as well:

By any metric, the MacBook was a huge success. It brought Intel processors to Apple’s consumers in a way that the iMac or MacBook Pro couldn’t. Here’s a bit from Apple’s press release at the time:

“Apple began the transition to Intel Core Duo-based notebooks in February with the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and now just 90 days later we have completed the transition with the release of the all new MacBook,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “The complete MacBook lineup leads the industry with Apple’s trademark innovative design and advanced mobile features—from top to bottom it is the best notebook line that we have ever offered.”

The entry-level machine sported a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo and started at $1,099. There was a 2.0 GHz model in white at $1,299, as well. Here are the tech specs of the original line-up:

At $1,499, the black model was exactly the same machine as the white one with the difference of a larger hard drive. As $200 for 20 GB of storage was viewed as robbery, the machine’s price earned a nickname: the so-called “black tax.”

Here are a couple of reviews from the time:

Jonathan Seff, Macworld:

And though from a value perspective, the black model isn’t as good a deal as the others, the cool black color will be enough for some people—those who want something different, own a black iPod, or need a more professional-looking laptop for work—to justify the cost.

Clint Ecker, Ars Technica:

An oft-bandied-about factoid is that if you were to configure the midlevel model to ship with an 80GB hard disk to match the high-end model, you’d still notice that it’s approximately US$150 cheaper. The only difference is the color and finish of the shell, of course (white is glossy and the black has a matte finish). This is undoubtedly done on purpose and is the direct result of Apple’s experience selling iPod and iPod nanos in two color options. It didn’t take long for Apple, and casual observers of Apple’s operations to notice that the black models were selling out faster. A lot faster.

Obviously the demand for black Apple products is much higher than the white products, and Apple is simply responding as most companies would when faced by high demand for a product. People who are set on getting that black MacBook are going to have to wrestle with the US$150 mark-up. Apple is banking that most people will willingly hand over even more cash to get a unique item. It sucks for people without the extra moolah to blow, but it doesn’t take long to come to the realization that it’s just a different color and that you’re going to be saving a nice chunk of change by going with white.

While the early MacBooks had their issues, the black ones faired a little better, at least when it came to case chipping. The black plastic used was a little more rubbery than on the white machines, and it served them well.

While I wouldn’t own a plastic MacBook until the very end of its original run (and only then, it was temporary), I coveted that black case.[3]

Over the course of the MacBook’s life, the black model remained at the top of the line, but never with a big enough technical advantage to justify the cost. Even maxed out, it carried a premium over the white models:

Just this week, there has been a lot of talk about the possible pricing of the gold Apple Watch. While the premiums on the Watch are going to be far larger than on the MacBooks of yesterday, the same principle is at play: Apple often charges more for things like color.

So, why does the black MacBook deserve to be the considered a future classic?

While Apple has shipped several black models over the years, the MacBook was by far the most successful. However, in the light of the truckloads of white models sold, it is rare to a degree.

More than the rarity, however, I think the black MacBook really helped set the stage for modern Apple to charge more for a design element.

Plus, they just look so damn cool.

  1. The MacBook was slightly heavier than the smaller iBook, though. Apple was doomed in 2006.  ↩

  2. Seriously, remember the 14-inch iBook? That thing was gross.  ↩

  3. Especially after my brother bought one.  ↩

FCC votes to enable Title II protection for the Internet

Jacob Kastrenakes:

The FCC's new order establishes a standard that requires internet providers to take no actions that unreasonably interfere with or disadvantage consumers or the companies whose sites and apps they're trying to access. At most, internet providers may slow down service only for the purpose of "reasonable network management" — not a business purpose.

A huge day.

Connected 28: The Color of Myke's Eyes

On the world's greatest now-recording-on-Tuesdays podcast:

This week, the boys discuss the iOS setup process and the possibly-confusing nature of the Apple Watch’s multiple variations before Stephen and Federico share their thoughts on the iPhone 6 Plus.

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