Commentary

The Apple Gold Standard: Think Rich, Bitch

Remember when, 20 or so years ago, anyone walking around in public shouting into a cell phone was considered a nuisance (or an asshole)? 

Well, soon early-ish adopters will be causing similar levels of annoyance by going around town yelling into their wristwatches. Or perhaps they’ll just piss people off with their ostentatious show of wristal rhythmic tapping?

Or not. At this point, writing disparagingly about the Apple watch is hardly new and hardly matters. As with most things Apple, there’s a certain inevitability about its success, even if it takes a few years and several iterations to get there.

Of course, there’s always grumbling after a significant product announcement. (And even more grumbling if it’s the same-old same-old.) Even monster success machines (or, especially business leviathans like Apple) need to keep moving into fresh waters, like sharks.

So why does this shift into techno-jewelry put me in such a huff? Is it merely the showoffy wearable part that is so aggressively annoying and dorky?  

Obviously, the culture already unleashed huge amounts of Haterade on the wearers of Google Glass -- or as those unfortunate optho-technocrats came to be known, Glassholes. Google is apparently reworking that particular face-interface for relaunch. 

And according to a recent profile in the New Yorker of Jonathan Ive, Apple’s storied designer felt superior from the start about slapping the computer on a wrist: “We always thought that glasses were not a smart move, from a point of view that people would not really want to wear them. They were intrusive," he told writer Ian Parker. 

Whereas, pointing to the Apple device on his wrist, Ive said, “This isn’t obnoxious. This isn’t building a barrier between you and me.”  And then he said he could tap and glance at his watch “casually.”

Then the writer undercuts Ive's point by adding that he "still uses notifications in the form of a young woman appearing silently from nowhere to hold a sheet of paper in his line of sight.” Snap. 

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook has done a really decent job of stepping into the extremely difficult role of running the Steve Jobs Dog and Pony Show. Like founder Jobs before him, Cook has received  swooning, reverent audience approval. For one, I love the idea of the new, ultra-thin, MacBook in gold. (To match the latest iPhones, popular for their gold or silver options.) And an HBO Go/Apple TV deal -- a natural -- was introduced.

Apple actually released the news of a coming watch, with several different versions, six months ago, so the launch wasn’t a surprise. Rather, the curveball during Apple’s “Spring Forward” event on Monday (and to me, a certain amount of shark-jumping) was the announcement of the price of the top, or “Apple Watch” edition, encased in a unique kind of 18-karat gold that is, according to Apple, “twice as hard as regular gold.” It will start at $10,000.

Depending on choice of bezels, links, bands, and other super-exclusive parts, Apple Watch edition prices go up to $17,000.

Think rich. Filthy-rich. Like the sports watches embedded with gold and diamonds, there’s something anomalous about it that doesn’t seem on-brand to me. This is iBling for the oligarch sensibility. And weren’t the Apple people supposed to be the pirates? The round pegs in the square holes, like Gandhi and Jim Henson? Yes, Steve is dead, but didn’t he always value radical simplicity in the service of sleek design?

Obviously, a lot of residents in Silicon Valley are “high-net-worth individuals,” but they’d never want to advertise it as such. So a certain amount of snark at moving into one-percenter territory is inevitable. Actress Anna Kendrick, for example, tweeted: "We should be thanking Apple for launching the $10,000 ‘Apple Watch' as the new gold-standard in douchebag detection."

Yup, a big gold watch, with all the connotations therein. Despite Apple’s move into fashion, with excellent hires from Burberry and other companies, doesn’t a gold watch symbolize the oldest old-school idea of what you get from a smokestack company upon retirement, after a lifetime of loyal service?

Or it’s the kind of purchase that you justify by handing down to generations -- not a digital watch, which is the ultimate in disposable technology (despite the gold that’s twice as hard as regular gold?). It reminds me of something that a husband of a Real Housewife would buy on camera, before it came out in the press that his mate got dumped from the show and they had to file for bankruptcy and sell the Rolls-Royce.

I understand that many people will want the entry-level device for tracking their exercise and health data.  I can’t get all my daily steps recorded on my phone, because I’m not holding it all the time. (Although a Fitbit is substantially cheaper.) I was also swayed the fact that I  search for my phone about 100 times a day -- even sometimes while I’m on it -- and wearing it would be easier. Except that you need to have your phone nearby, within a certain radius, for the watch to work.

Certainly, there are hands-full moments when it would undoubtedly help, such as swiping to board a plane or pay for Starbucks. And really, the time it takes to pull out your iPhone  to use it? That’s seven to 10 seconds you’ll never get back -- seven to 10 seconds that are for losers.

But even the cheapest entry point -- $349 -- is too expensive for most Millennials, who would have to be trained to wear a watch in the first place.

What’s more, the 18-hour battery is limiting. It’s another thing you have to remember to plug in at night. Plus, it’s not as if you can watch your watch, the way you can with an iPad or iPhone.

It’s funny that Cook did have a charming moment of acknowledging the boys'-toy, two-way-radio aspect, noting that he’s wanted the Dick Tracy watch -- introduced in the cartoon in 1946 as a top-secret invention to help nab bad guys like Mumbles and Pruneface -- since he was five. That’s a powerful cultural touchstone for those now on Social Security.

The Apple watch goes on sale April 24. It will no doubt sell out; there are enough Apple super-fans to do that. Still, the swagger that comes with it isn’t subtle or casual, or in keeping with Apple’s core values. (Sorry.)

That said, I’m pretty sure I’ll be wearing some cheaper, better version a couple of years from now. And wonder what I ever did without it.

17 comments about "The Apple Gold Standard: Think Rich, Bitch".
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  1. Michael Vrh from enabledware, March 11, 2015 at 6:05 p.m.

    I am so sick of Apple. Why don't they take some of their billions and tells us what they are doing for community causes.

  2. David Kleeman from Dubit, March 11, 2015 at 6:12 p.m.

    As a runner, I was a little bit interested in the Apple Watch for its built in fitness tracking app. But, when I realized that I'd still need to carry my iPhone with me on my runs to get the watch to work, I lost interest. More unobtrusive and smaller tech sounds good to me - doubling the number of devices we need to carry, not so much.

  3. larry towers from nyu, March 11, 2015 at 6:24 p.m.

    Rich people don't just spend money to spend money. A $10k watch has to be unique. And most certainly mechanical. That is after all what the most expensive watches are: the marriage of art and meticulous mechanical engineering. When you can wind up the highest end iWatch and have it run for days on only mechanical energy then it might be worth it.

  4. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 11, 2015 at 6:26 p.m.

    @Barbara...
    As I said on "AdScam" a few days ago, I would recommend the "WankBand" from Porn Hub. You don't need gold, 'cos you use it in the dark, and with sufficient wrist action, the battery never runs down.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  5. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, March 11, 2015 at 6:34 p.m.

    I puzzled about the need for a watch when they first announced it. And then I noticed they were showing mostly women wearing the fancy expensive "edition" watches. And then it dawned on me that this is very pocketbook centric. This really works for women who carry their 6 Pluses in their purse and can quickly answer texts and check in with social media via a small extension on their wrists disguised as jewelry. Maybe it would work well, too, for men who might carry one in their interior suit coat pockets. I don't know. But it makes sense for it to be jewel like, to masquerade as nothing more technological than a nice watch. But at the prices announced, I find myself wondering why it's not a case from which the tech could be eventually removed and replaced or upgraded. Then the expense might be justifiable as an eternally upgradable objet d'art. But as presented, none of this makes sense. As far as I'm concerned, I enjoy touching my iPhone too much to relegate it to some pocket somewhere. Of course, as you said, who knows, in a few years I could be checking messages on my Apple Watch, wondering how ever I lived without it. But right now? I would have to say I don't see it.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 11, 2015 at 7:44 p.m.

    Oh what big eyes you have ! Better to see you with my dear. Do these little info squares come with huge magnifying glasses ? Then it doesn't matter what it can do. Can't see it.

  7. Tom Inglesby from PhotoMedia! Publishing, March 11, 2015 at 9:08 p.m.

    "As with most things Apple, there’s a certain inevitability about its success, even if it takes a few years and several iterations to get there." Three little words: Lisa and Next.
    So much for inevitability. Ah, but that was long ago....

  8. david marks from self, March 11, 2015 at 9:56 p.m.

    So perfectly said, Barbara! There’s no accounting for over indulgence, and frankly, it’s not a pretty thing. So much for tempered beauty, so much for Rolex and the handsome, if sexy, timepiece. This one’s not for me, and frankly, nothing gold is golden in time. Stick to your Timex.

  9. Susan Klein from Oculus Marketing, March 12, 2015 at 1:15 a.m.

    I scratch and bump my watch far more often than I drop my safety-encased phone. So what happens when I accidentally whack this chunky piece of wristnology against, for example, the heavy front entry door of my office building? Will Apple provide a lifestime supply of bubblewrap?

  10. Marke Rubenstein from Skull Communications llc, March 12, 2015 at 10:33 a.m.

    Ah, to be as eloquent as you. So well said. I don't know anyone that wears a watch. Certainly not even well- to- do millennials who get the time (when they want it) from their ever present phones. Will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe rappers will adopt it for music videos? What rhymes with dumb ass apple watch?

  11. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 12, 2015 at 11:15 a.m.

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone. No doubt apps are being created-- who knows what can happen? And yes, I left out the famous lyrics of that storied Chicago hit , "Does anyone really know what time it is? Does anyone really care?" Apparently, yes!

  12. Anne Dodd from self, March 12, 2015 at 11:30 a.m.

    How can an 18kt watch be twice as strong as regular gold? The higher the kt weight, the softer the metal. Are they alloying it with kryptonite?

  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 12, 2015 at 11:40 a.m.

    Good point, Anne! It's mixed with alloys-- some metallurgical breakthrough.;-)

  14. Maxwell from eMaximize, March 12, 2015 at 12:18 p.m.

    Agree with many ... so sick of tech companies ruining society. Just came back from San Francisco where i lived for 14 years. The city is over run with tech nerds with zero social skills, understanding of personal space and manners. I felt like I was in China.

  15. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 12, 2015 at 8:59 p.m.

    I forgot to mention that the ads are beautiful, but the watch itself is not.

  16. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, March 12, 2015 at 9:26 p.m.

    It's all about the price! They almost had me at tick tock.
    The Apple Watch should never have cost more
    than an iPhone or iPad.
    So little utility, so much dough.
    Could be Apple's Microsoft moment, Barbara?
    Let's relax and enjoy this Harvard Business School
    Case Study (OK! Stanford Business School.)
    New Coke lives again in the Apple Watch.
    Don't forget. Order now while you can still by the dream...
    that will become your financial nightmare.
    Although the target market only includes the rich as Croesus
    kings & queens of Silicon Slick Alley, really any fool can get one.

  17. Jim English from The Met Museum, March 13, 2015 at 1:12 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara. This Luddite says the Watch is one-half pair of handcuffs. And with all that gold the thing must be heavy. At least you can put an iPhone or iPad in your bag when you're not using it.

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