Noah J Nelson on Monday, Mar. 9th
If you went by Twitter alone you’d think that the most interesting thing about the Apple Watch announcement was that a gold watch costs $10,000.
This is what Twitter is best at: missing the forrest for the shiniest tree.
You might think from the image above that I think that the announcement of HBO Now–the version of HBO unbundled from cable for less than the price of what I pay for HBO from my cable company–is the big news. You’d be half right. Because that move, which is something that cord cutters have been begging for for years now, is a signifier of something bigger going on behind the scenes of these companies. So too is the Apple Watch, or at least the selling points that Apple was crowing about onstage today.
What caught my eye with the Watch demonstrations is how many of the use cases involved interacting with what we could call the Internet of Things. Need to hail a car? Two taps and you’ve got an Uber coming your way. Flying today? The Watch is your boarding pass. Checking in to a hotel? The Watch becomes your room key. I don’t travel a lot, but if I did I sure would be excited about those use cases.
Of course the features start off being pitched at the folks who exist in a higher income bracket than shlubs like me. Yet the interplay of networks and devices seems to inevitably spider out to what’s left of the middle class. What I read between the lines of today’s presser is that Apple has used the cultural dominance of the iPhone to bring a lot of other companies onboard for their version of the Internet of Things. It’s a no-brainer for brands that don’t directly compete with Apple, and this trend carries over into the CarPlay and HomeKit initiatives that Cupertino is pushing.
Sure, a lot of this stuff could work just with the phones–like Apple Pay does. No doubt that they will. One day the Watch might be able to replace a phone in the wild, but there’s a lot of miniaturization between now and then.
The network shift is also on display with the HBO Now announcement. (And here you thought that I had forgotten about linking the two ideas together.) A few years back one of the team members on the original HBO Go program told me that HBO had a formula for when to pull the trigger on an unbundled product. We’ve clearly passed the threshold on that tipping point, and it’s due in large part to the massive changes in how consumers interact with the networks that have been created in the past decade.
It’s easy to forget that these are massive shifts in consumption and production patterns. They rewrite the way that we think about just about every aspect of our society, from the way we watch TV, to how businesses are organized, to how we think democracy should work. While Netflix and Hulu were ahead of the curve, the conversion of HBO to a stand-alone product is the actual crack in the media dam that we’ve been waiting for. Couple that with the recent victory that Net Neutrality advocates had and you can see the tide of history.
Society has always been a series of overlapping, interdependent networks. We’re just being honest about it in ways we’ve never been before.
As for the $10,000 and up gold Apple Watch? Sure, it’s pure Rich Kids of Instagram bait. Barring an announcement next year about an aggressive “heirloom status” upgrade program which would put new parts into the previous body these Watches will face obsolescence after a few years of Watch OS upgrades and sensor improvements. That’s not something that factors into the decision to buy a Rolex. In so many ways the Apple Watch isn’t a watch, and that differentiator is a big one. If Apple wants to fleece the 1% and turn those profits into awesome stuff for the rest of us, let ’em.