Ever since its launch, the internet has been littered with critical takedowns of the Apple Watch and its limited scope for success. Well, with their latest announcement, Apple may have just proved them all wrong. Here's why.
Among the slew of new product announcements, lazy superlatives and clichéd hyperbole dished out at Apple’s annual September conference on Wednesday, there was one surprisingly important piece of news. More important, in fact, than all the rose gold iPhones, Apple TVs or 3D touch displays you can shake a "redefined pencil" at.
The revelation that Hermès will be the first brand to produce their own Apple Watch means a lot more than just having another flashy toy for the world to throw its credit card at. The collaboration represents the first move in what may well be the decisive winning play for the Apple Watch, opening up a whole new frontier for Apple as a company.
Image via Apple
I don’t think anyone can dispute that Apple products have always been good looking. When you cast an eye over the brand’s competitors, Apple has almost always been the smarter, sleeker, sexier choice, even if it sometimes lacked the technical substance to back that up. But while items like the iPhone, iPad and iPod have become the de-facto purchase for many image-conscious shoppers, the devices themselves have remained more of a characterless necessity than a decisive style choice.
Sure, you can have your iPhone in one of five different colors, but underneath that shop-bought veneer it’s still the same fundamental product. It’s still made by a technology company whose target market is so large that it’s almost meaningless. It’s for exactly this reason that the custom iPhone case market emerged; people needed a way to impart their own aesthetic values on an item they used (and displayed) so regularly, but which said so little about them.
Image via The Handbag Project
Therein lay the fundamental dilemma with the Apple Watch. Arguably, a watch has far more intrinsic aesthetic weight than a phone — it is, after all, an accessory worn just as much as a personal statement as a functional item. But while Apple attempted to cater for such a need with a vast range of strap designs and case materials, the inconvenient truth remained that this was still a mass-market technology product, and no matter what choices you made, you were still shopping straight from a corporate catalogue.
To their credit, Apple evidently understood this (it seems all those former fashion-execs they hired actually paid off). Despite their supreme confidence in the aesthetic supremacy of their products, someone at the company managed to get the message across that Apple will never have the same stylistic kudos or individualistic cachet as a bona-fide fashion brand. Enter Hermès — perhaps the most bulletproof of names they could have asked for — to help remedy this. A name, in fact, that may see off the naysayers once and for all and help secure the Apple Watch’s place alongside its now-irreplaceable i-bretheren.
Image via Marco Dalprato
For the first time yet, those seeking a smart-timepiece will be given the opportunity to make a primarily stylistic choice — one in which the Apple Watch is merely the functional aspect. In effect, Apple has had the wisdom to step away from the limelight and let a name with more tangible values take over, resulting in a product that retains those precious aspects of individuality and personal statement that the image-conscious prize so highly.
Yet, whether for financial or stylistic reasons, obviously a Hermès strap is not for everyone, and only a small percentage of Apple Watch customers will ever end up owning one. What matters most about this latest move by the company is not the numbers sold, but the precedent it sets. Here we have a brand with over 175 years of heritage lending their name to a product that has been out less than a year, and not yet been proven in the eyes of the global customer. And, in taking the back seat on this one, Apple have effectively established their Watch as the paradigm into which other brands can (now quite literally) slot themselves.
Image via Apple
By choosing a brand as timeless, classic and proudly stuck in their ways as Hermès, Apple have announced to the fashion-conscious community: “Wearing an Apple Watch is completely normal. So normal, in fact, that those brands you already know and love can make it their product.” In doing so, the stage is set for a world in which people collect new Apple Watch straps just as they would any other luxury accessory, making the watch itself little more than an essential, everyday item to be purchased as a matter of necessity. For other brands out there who were perhaps uncertain about whether the smartwatch game was worth their time (or worth risking their image on), this is an invitation almost too good to turn down.
And, with their help, Apple may have just pulled off what many said was unthinkable just a few months ago: turning a corporate and ultimately disposable technology purchase into something capable of making an enduring aesthetic statement. If you bet on the Apple Watch flopping any time soon, think again.