Apple Watch: Will it live up to the hype?

Apple Watch ... will it live up to the hype?
Apple Watch ... will it live up to the hype?

JUST inside the Apple Store in London's Covent Garden, there's a row of people peering inquisitively into a glass case containing a dozen or more watches, some with brightly coloured plastic straps, others with a much heftier bling quotient.

For customers used to getting their hands on Apple products before buying them, that glass case represents something of an annoyance; the Apple Watch is, at least for the moment, tantalisingly out of reach, untouchable for punters wandering in off the piazza.

There's not even any point in queuing up tomorrow, the launch day, because you can only order one online.

And if you order one online, you're unlikely to receive it for a couple of months.

In a typical example of Apple marketing strategy that - depending on your point of view - is either a stroke of genius or deeply infuriating, we're being made to want this watch, and to wait for it.

According to market research firm GfK, 46 per cent of us are aware of its launch - very high for a technology product - and one analyst has estimated that three million have already been pre-ordered.

On paper, the Apple Watch is a success before the public have even got their hands on it.

While existing smart watches such as the Pebble, Samsung's Gear S, the Moto 360 and the Sony Smartwatch have all had praise lavished upon them, they've fallen short of setting the world alight.

We're certainly not averse to the idea of smart watches - GfK found that 12 per cent of us intend to buy one in the next six months - but a slump in smart watch sales in the first quarter of this year indicates that it's the Apple Watch launch that we've been hanging on for.

The question, as with all new Apple lines, is whether it's worth the hype.

After all, if you use it only as a watch, and look at it only five times an hour, the battery lasts only two days.

It works only in conjunction with an iPhone 5 or later.

The design isn't groundbreaking, especially in comparison to the fake mock-ups of curved glass that had people clucking excitedly a few months back.

Research by GfK also shows that it's more expensive than people had thought; most prospective purchasers imagined it would cost around £299, rather than the typical £499 price tag.

And then, of course, it's a watch. But who needs a watch these days, when 93 per cent of us own a phone that tells us the time?

In truth, the death of the watch has been exaggerated.

While statistics from five years ago hinted people under 25 were twice as likely than older people to jettison their watches, sales have been rising, albeit polarising into two distinct groups, namely high-end and cheap tat.

Watches have never been primarily for telling the time; they're worn for aesthetic value - for showing off - and if the Apple Watch ends up propelling the smart phone market forward, Swiss watch-makers may begin to feel the pinch.

Indeed, reports from Baselworld, the watch and jewellery trade fair that took place last month, indicated some disquiet about the smart watch's rise, along with a frosty insistence that the two product categories could happily co-exist.

(The Watch Edition, an 18-carat gold version going for £8,000 and up, is a clear attempt by Apple to invade that market.)

We'll see. In 2012, the very first Pebble watch raised $10m on Kickstarter.

On paper, that was an impressive number, and we raised our eyebrows accordingly. Then 2013 was deemed to be the year of the smart watch.

So was 2014.

The next few weeks will establish whether we're sufficiently seduced by the Apple Watch's fitness features, its "digital crown" and its touchy-feely "Taptic Engine" to finally give smart watches an emphatic thumbs-up.

If you've got a spare 500 quid, the prospect of checking your iPhone without reaching into your pocket for it has drawn one step closer.

Topics:  apple watch editors picks technology

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