Posted by David Price 06 March 2015
Apple Watch countdown: Or how to announce the same product twice
With three days to go before Apple's 'Spring Forward' media event, the thoughts of the tech world are firmly and dutifully turned to the Apple Watch. But appropriately for an event themed around the concept of time, the whole thing feels like a throwback to September 2014.
The Apple Watch was first announced at the iPhone 6 event last year, but unlike virtually all Apple products of recent vintage it didn't spring fully formed from Jony Ive's noble brow. It was still an embryo device - a semi-functional prototype thrust prematurely into the limelight, seemingly in response to widespread (if unfair) accusations that Apple had forgotten how to innovate.
Six months on, we've still not heard a UK price (or a US price for most of the models) or any firm launch date at all; and while our reviewer has had enough hands-on time to reach a useful verdict on the device's fundamentals, many of the features remain an unknown, or at least untested, quantity. The Apple Watch has been semi-launched for so long now that even Macworld wearables expert Ashleigh Allsopp has pronounced herself bored.
All of which makes Monday's event very different from the press conferences we've grown used to here in Apple land. Apple events - and Apple pundits - thrive on mystery. The less we know, the more we are fascinated. And Cupertino has historically been masterful at exploiting this fact, keeping product details secret until the very moment Tim Cook opens his mouth, and driving the blogosphere wild with anticipation by constricting the information flow. You'll get the odd supply-chain leak, but that's about it.
Remember when we were all getting excited about the iPad Air? No you don't, because we all thought it was going to be called the iPad 5. Remember how surprised we were by the radical redesigns of iOS 7 and the Mac Pro? Think back to the shock when U2 gave away their album. (The furious indignation came slightly later.) Try to imagine that very first iPhone reveal having the same impact if we'd already seen the thing, played around with it and spent six months comparing its feature set with a range of rival products.
So how are we supposed to get excited this time around? A lot of us aren't - not really. I for one am mostly looking forward to Monday's event as the sort of pedestrian 'just the facts, ma'am' press conference we mock our PC Advisor colleagues for covering. ("HELLO. WELCOME TO MICROSOFT. UPLOADING PRESS RELEASE. PLEASE LEAVE.") It's possible that I will spend the evening typing out specs and pricing lists, and for an Apple journalist that is a slightly sad prospect.
But even though many of us do somewhat regret the fact that Apple felt compelled to shove its wearable out the door before it was ready, this is still Apple, and grabbing and holding media attention is what it does. Don't write off the Spring Forward event just yet.
For one thing, that final comparison I made just then - to the original iPhone - offers one source of solace. Sure, the first iPhone was a surprise at the time; but exactly like the Apple Watch, it didn't actually become available until several months later (10 months later, here in the UK). And while sales of the first iPhone would be dwarfed by those of later models - which among other factors had more efficiently managed launch schedules for the creation, fulfilment and instant gratification of immense media hype - it can hardly be called a failure.
The other thing that comforts me is a feeling - possibly irrational, but built up over years of similar events - that Apple isn't capable of being boring for a whole press conference. (It can certainly drift off into stats and technicalities for lengthy periods, but there will always be something to grab the imagination.) I feel sure that the company has something up its sleeve (geddit?) other than the Apple Watch.
Given that Apple has reportedly invited a bunch of weirdo fashionistas to the unveiling, it's probably safe to assume that we won't be hearing too many details about the Office for Mac preview, or any other substantially business-targeted products. (The enigmatic iPad Pro/iPad Plus, if it even exists, will probably be aimed at the enterprise as a riposte to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and for that reason we're not expecting it to appear on Monday either.) But Apple has plenty of other cool lifestyle lines to talk about. It would make even more sense if they tie in with the Apple Watch in some way.
I seem to have become Macworld's Apple Pay correspondent, rather by a process of default, but I've grown fond of the thing in its own way. I'll be able to get behind it a lot more once it launches in Europe, at any rate, and I think that this could well happen alongside the Apple Watch announcements. (It is, potentially, one of the Apple Watch's killer apps.) Alternatively, we could hear about impressive new signings to Apple Pay's roster of banks and retailers, or simply more details and demonstrations of how it will work on the wrist.
We're also likely to hear about Apple's plans on the music-streaming subscription front, whether this remains under the iTunes Radio banner or, as we expect, it takes on the Beats Music branding. And, given that it's probably the nearest thing technology has to a style icon, the MacBook Air could well get an update.
Maybe Apple will launch something we haven't even imagined yet.
But whether it's a stale retread or an inspiring blockbuster, a lot of people will be tuning into Monday's Apple Watch event. You can follow the announcements live on our Apple Watch liveblog, which also includes details of how to watch Apple's own live feed of the event. See you on the other side.