Posted by David Price 19 March 2015
Why Apple Watch pricing makes everyone so angry
A few weeks on from the Apple Watch launch event (or rather, the Apple Watch launch event part 2) and we're still hearing surprisingly vociferous reactions concerning that most awkward of subjects: money.
The luxury version of the Apple Watch, Apple Watch Edition, starts - starts! - at £8,000, and tops out at £13,500. Which is certainly a great deal of cash to be talking about. But from the angry comments I've been seeing (mostly on Twitter, admittedly, which is not the medium you should turn to for live-and-let-live equanimity) you'd think Tim Cook had turned up at people's houses with a gun and a balaclava.
Aside from the first and most obvious point that must be always be borne in mind when reading social media - that human beings have a variety of opinions and this isn't the end of the world - it feels pertinent to wonder aloud why the option to spend a lot of money on a luxury product (the bottom-end Sport version of the Apple Watch starts at just under £300, making it the most affordable first-gen Apple product in any major category the company has entered) is enough to cause so much vexation.
A first observation: while fans of rival companies have always made play of the fact that Apple products are expensive, what they mean is that Apple products are more expensive than the alternatives. Looking rationally at the pricing of MacBooks or iPad minis, for instance, it's hard to describe them as a rip-off (aside from the occasional 'rip-off Britain' unfavourable trans-Atlantic conversion, and even these often look worse than they are because of different labelling of pre- and post-tax pricing). There are nearly always cheaper alternatives, but our experience suggests that you get what you pay for. The price is not low, but it is fair.
What's new about the Apple Watch, new for Apple and new for the technology industry in general, is the idea of a product costing more - vastly more, in fact - without doing more things better. The Edition doesn't have a faster processor or a better battery; you don't get more apps or a bigger screen. It's just made of more expensive materials, and that doesn't make a lot of sense in the tech world, where we expect a correlation between what we pay for a device and what it can do and how well. The Apple Watch Edition costs more because the people that buy it are willing to spend more money on it (beyond the broader but more limited capitalist sense in which this is true of all products), and in this industry we find that confusing.
In the fashion industry, though? Not confusing. Wholly understandable.
Fashion is - if experts in that field will forgive a few cautious observations from a man who mostly looks like he has been dressed by his mum in the dark and on a budget - an arena that has completely divorced value from function. I haven't tried them on, but I'm willing to assume that a £1,365 pair of Christian Louboutin ankle boots is not going to be 20 times as comfortable as a £70 pair from H&M, nor is it going to last 20 times as long, or keep your feet 20 times as dry. But - just as with the Apple Watch Sport and the Apple Watch Edition - they are made out of nicer materials, and they look nicer, and they are aimed at a wealthier clientele, and that's what they are willing to spend.
And, while conspicuous unnecessary spending is always going to seem bizarre to those who aren't invested in that particular type of product (presumably many would think I waste my money clothing and feeding a toddler), it's hard to argue that there's anything really wrong with that.
Cast your mind back a few weeks and you'll recall that a lot of us were bemused by the idea of fashion-world luminaries being invited to the Apple Watch launch: imagining, I suspect, that most of them, like the brainless supermodels in Private Eye or Derek Zoolander, would be sitting there confused by processor speeds and downloadable applications and wireless charging; and that any references to Apple products other than the Watch would make their heads explode. But it seems that we're the ones that failed to understand what's going on.
Apple has moved on - or rather enlarged the scope of its operations. In entering the fashion sector it also adopted fashion's commercial conventions: not least the idea of a super-luxury flagship line aimed at the 0.1 percenters and a diffusion line at the bottom to offer a hint of the first group's glamour to the rest of us at a fraction of the price. From a company that set out to make personal computers affordable for all, that might seem like a betrayal. But it's just the reality of the new world that Apple has joined.