You don't even have to like Apple products to acknowledge the company is a master when it comes to marketing and branding. This is the company, after all, that is widely perceived as the one that produces products that consumers want — before they know they want them.
So now Apple has entered the smartwatch market.
And it should really knock everyone over with a feather to realize that the company has gone to great lengths to develop what it predicts will be a market trendsetter, packed full of features and design refinements unseen in earlier smartwatches.
Apple has redefined markets, time and time again. From the desktop computer in its early days to the evolution of both personal music players and the way the music industry delivers and sells music to end users, this is heady stuff. In recent years, Apple rode this wave of innovation into the smartphone market with the iPhone and redefined personal computing devices with the iPad.
Now it's once again merging art and technology in a way that will likely open the luxury goods market to wearable tech — and help shatter some of the marketing challenges and product perception issues that wearables will have to overcome if they want to take root as established high priced consumer goods.
How does Apple do it?
Just think back to 2010, when Steve Jobs summed up the secret to Apple's success at the end of his speech at the iPad's debut: "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing."
Is It Here Yet?
Apple knows something else. It knows how to build desire for a product, before, during and after a product launch. Remember all those "lost" iPhone prototypes that just happened to be left in Silicon Valley bars? The long lines at retail stores the days a new iPad or iPhone was launched?
And how about the pre-production hype? Just last year, there were weekly rumors about Apple's unconfirmed, unannounced, often speculated smartwatch. Everyone expected Apple would enter the smartwatch market, sooner or later. But no one expected Apple to launch a limited number of specialty18k gold smartwatches with price tags of $10,000 to $18,000.
Ok, sure. Apple did say a gold one was in the works. But the price point was a bit shocking.
While Apple has always priced its products at a slight premium when compared to comparable devices, it was surprising to see it set itself apart with such a large price gap.
What's It Mean?
Wearable tech is an industry in its infancy, and the luxury goods market represents a significant space but largely untapped space.
The tech segment has largely ignored this segment of the market, especially at the price point at which Apple is looking to make its entry. For most of us, a $10,000 smartwatch is out of reach. So Apple is clearly courting to the wealthiest segment of the consumer market.
In an interview with CMSWire, Rhode Island-based jewelry and giftware designer Dave Medeiros described this as aspirational marketing. An aspirational brand develops a limited number of high-end products to draw customers to the line and build desire — then refocuses them back to lower priced options.
And though that might be part of the play for Apple, I think it's likely a small part. Even if Apple never makes a single 18k gold Apple Watch Edition (which it will) it will likely break all types of pre-order and sales records with its new smartwatch.
Patrik Kloz, CEO of mustino, a tech start up in the wearable space, told me users have lower perceptions of jewelry that are also tech products.
"Unless you are Apple," he added. When asked why he felt consumers perceived tech-enabled jewelry as less valuable, he said, “The main problem is that jewelry and tech functionality is something new and people cannot compare it to existing products and pricing experiences.”
Apple entering the luxury watch space could change that. Just recently TAG Heuer announced a partnership with Intel and Google to produce high-end smart watches. These ones will be Swiss made, a distinction that will likely appeal a great deal to watch enthusiasts more than tech enthusiasts.
So it seems Apple won’t be venturing alone into the luxury segment of the smartwatch space. We’ve already had the jolt of a $10,000 smartwatch. Now we can all move on, to even more luxury wearables.
If I have learned anything from watching Apple as a company, it's that I'm sure it has a bigger picture plan. If it works as well as others it has devised, it could ultimately change the way consumers see luxury goods.
Title image by arkportablepower.