It’s been a joke in technology circles for as long as Apple’s had competitors: People pay more for Apple products not because they’re better, but because they’re cute, or all the hip people buy Apple. The underlying insult is that Apple’s about hype, not quality, but for a long time, historically, that wasn’t true: They just had a different philosophy. With the Apple Watch announcement, though, that may have changed.
Let’s start with the Apple Watch. Much of the hype is going towards the fact that Apple wants $10,000 for its limited edition version, which makes no sense from a technology perspective. Apple is already working on Apple Watch 2. But even setting that aside, the Apple Watch’s price is absurd: It starts at $350 and ranges up to $1,100 for retail models, depending on the band and type of watch you choose.
Especially considering the costs of some of Apple’s now-competitors, that seems absurd from a tech perspective. And I want to emphasize, that’s not for the actual technology: You can spend $350 or $1,100, but most of that cost will be the watch band that comes in the box.
Or how about the MacBook? Tim Cook introduced it by walking on stage with the new, gold version of it. How’d the Internet react?
But that was nothing compared to the outrage that followed when Apple announced it had a USB Type-C port, a headphone jack and… and… well, actually, that’s it. Yep, you have to do everything out of precisely one port.
Again, this makes no sense from a technological perspective: This more or less means that even if I wanted to use it for work, I couldn’t. It turns the MacBook into a giant flip-phone. But consider the hype was really about the colors it came in, the sleekness of the design, and the fact that it weighed just two pounds. This isn’t a computer for work. This is a computer to be seen using.
Even the technical fixes to the device, which range from Apple extending the battery life with power-sipping components to a better screen, were about aesthetics. Look how environmentally friendly your toy is!
About the only place Apple cut prices and didn’t make it about looks was with the Apple TV, leading off the conference with an announcement that the Apple TV would be exclusively getting HBO Now, the only way to stream Game of Thrones live without a cable subscription. Left out of that was the exact nature of this “exclusive,” although suffice to say it won’t be exclusive for long. There was also the odd, out-of-left-field announcement that Apple was getting into open-source medical research, which is a curious turn to say the least.
There’s a lot you can take away from this conference, but the key message is really this: Apple no longer views itself as a technology company. It’s now, to its own eyes, a luxury brand. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical of smartwatches before and there’s nothing in Apple’s keynote that’s changed my mind. Yes, the apps are neat and all, but it’s just an extension of your smartphone. I don’t take my phone out so often I need a $350 accessory to stop it, and I doubt I’m alone in that.
Then again, if there was one thing this press conference has made clear, it’s that Apple’s stuff is no longer for most of us. It will be fascinating to see whether that belief holds true.