JEFF SELTZER is the Managing Partner at Hypothesis. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this year, I asked Ke, the newest (and easily the most fashionable) member of BrainTrust, about her Apple Watch: “So, how do you like it?” She responded lukewarmly, “It’s kind of, well, dumb.” That’s interesting. I noticed that no one else in the office had one – and this is an office full of early adopters and folks who love wearable tech (lots of Fitbits, for example). Then, I saw this article forecasting sluggish Apple Watch sales in 2016.
When considering the hundreds of new concepts Hypothesis has evaluated over the past 15 years, I’ve found that the most successful ones do at least one of these three things well:
- Solve a problem without creating new ones;
- Significantly improve upon what’s already available;
- Create a strong emotional connection–stronger than reason.
If a new product/service can’t do one of these three things from a consumer point of view, success will likely be elusive. In fact, I would argue that the Apple Watch fails on all three.
1. Does the Apple Watch Solve a Problem for the consumer? No.
The best new products and services do something seemingly obvious: they solve a consumer-perceived problem. They do so in an elegant, user-friendly, harmonious way.
The original iPod is a great example. Before the iPod, there was no way to easily take all your music with you. The same goes for Kindle and books. TiVo, GPS, BlueAppron.com – all solve a problem in a beautiful way without introducing new ones. But, the Apple Watch fails to significantly help consumers get over a barrier: you are still tethered to your phone, most of the health functions are available from companies that do it better, and the small screen of the Apple Watch arguably creates more problems. If the Apple Watch solves something, please let me know because I don’t see it.
(And, yes, I know, sometimes customers don’t even know they even have a problem in the first place. Apple’s Steve Jobs allegedly proclaimed, “We don’t do market research. Our goal is to design, develop, and bring to market good products… and we trust, as a consequence that people will like them.” Interestingly, on LinkedIn, a search within the Company “Apple” and Title “market research” turn up 500+ people.)
2. Does the Apple Watch dramatically improve upon something already available? No.
Not just incremental improvement but dramatic improvement. Reimagining something that’s been taken for granted, sometimes to the point of disruption.
An obvious example is Uber, which dramatically improved on the traditional taxi. The digital camera, LED lighting, Sonos Speakers, and Keurig coffee makers also qualify; they all took something we were used to, and dramatically improved upon its quality, convenience, and functionality. But, what about the Apple Watch? Is it a better than a real watch around the same price? A real watch is more convenient (doesn’t require charging), water proof, holds its value and sometimes appreciates, won’t become obsolete with a version 2.0, has no learning curve, comes “bug free,” and the only updates it ever needs is the occasional new battery. The design of a traditional watch is already beautiful and functional as it gives you the information you need quickly. The simplicity of the design is what makes it so sophisticated. The Apple Watch makes no meaningful improvements on the traditional watch and there’s no evidence watches even need improvement. (Maybe it's not supposed to be compared to a real watch, but then don't call it a watch!)
3. Does the Apple Watch create a strong emotional/visceral reaction beyond reason? No, not really. Not enough.
This is perhaps the trickiest of the three criteria. Some products don’t necessarily solve a problem or dramatically improve on an existing idea, but rather connect with you in a way that says, “I’ve got to have it. I don’t care why!” I remember listing all the reasons I didn’t need my new Fuji Xpro2 digital rangefinder. In fact, the only thing in the plus column was, “I want it.” And, now I have it, and I'm happy. Luxury brands have the same kind of pull: Prada, Channel, Louis Vuitton, etc.
Although many Apple products generate strong visceral connections, with fanboys lining up for the latest and greatest, this kind of reaction Apple Watch seemed limited in comparison, and short-lived. Perhaps that's because watches themselves are often purchased for personal, emotional reasons to begin with. In fact, some products are appealing simply because they are unique, and I would put watches in that category. For example, my colleague wears a vintage Rolex from her grandfather, not because it keeps better time, but because it's a unique conversation piece with sentimental value. Indeed, a watch tells a short, personal story about who we are as in individual and, for that reason, I maintain that having the same watch as everyone else is quite unappealing. Regardless, the Apple Watch failed to clearly be an object of desire beyond reason.
The Final Word.
If your company is considering a new product or service, make sure that from a consumer standpoint it solves a problem, dramatically improves upon an existing idea, and/or creates a strong emotional/visceral pull. The only way to do that is to invite the consumer to the discussion as you develop your concept. Otherwise you run the risk of creating something that no one needs, or wants.
Can you think of any services or products that don't meet one of the 3 requirements? How about other examples of products that have failed all 3? Leave a comment below.