Three big questions before the Apple Watch event

Apple is holding a press event on March 9, presumably to show off and start orders for the Apple Watch it introduced back in September. I’m all but certain here on the event topic based on the previously stated April shipment date for Apple’s first smartwatch; launching it in March for pre-orders with an April delivery simply makes sense to me.

Apple Watch Event

I’ll be attending and live-blogging the event. Until then, I’m still trying to sort out answers to a several key questions about the device itself. My colleague Kif Leswing posed six open questions after Tim Cook first showed us the Apple Watch. Several of those still apply, and I have a few others after seeing the Watch for myself last year and because I’ve been using smartwatches for the past few years.

How much will the different variants cost?

Obviously, all will be revealed when the product officially launches. We know that the point of entry is $349 for the Apple Watch in stainless steel and sapphire crystal. But what about the Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition models?

As someone who tends to buy smartwatches for an active lifestyle — I own a Motorola MotoACTV and a Sony Smartwatch 3; both are focused on exercise and sport with their own GPS radio — I’m going to go against the grain here and suggest that the Apple Watch Sport model will cost less than $349.

Apple Watch launch event

Why? It forgoes stainless steel for aluminum, uses strengthened Ion-X glass instead of expensive sapphire and comes with a simple fluoroelastomer band instead of one made with pricey metal or leather.

If I recall correctly in September, Cook said the starting price of the Apple Watch edition (not Apple Watch Sport) would be $349. Many assume this is the lowest price for the entire line. But if the watch is made with less expensive materials — the band and case, for example — I’m thinking the Sport model may have a lower price, part of an under-promise and over-delivery strategy that could surprise and surpass expectations.

My guess on cost is $279 or $299. If I misheard Cook, then of course, all bets are off but even Apple’s official press release from September omits the word “Sport” from the pricing: “Apple Watch will be available in early 2015 starting at $349 (US).”  It could be confusion over semantics but as I read it — and recall from the September event — the price applied to the standard smartwatch edition.

Apple Watch

As far as the Apple Watch Edition for the luxury crowd, I can only wonder. I’ve read several well-written thoughts in the past week suggesting that the rose gold model could cost as much as $10,000. That might well be right considering the cost of luxury watches. I’ve spent nearly $1,000 on a mechanical, stainless steel analog watch in the past but similar models made with precious metals could easily inflate the price by a factor of ten.

What’s the killer app or compelling reason to purchase an Apple Watch?

Let me preface this by saying that, even if the Apple Watch only does what Cook showed off in September, I’m sure Apple will sell millions this year. But let’s take a deeper dive, because I didn’t leave September’s Apple Watch introduction event feeling as if this was a must-have product.

We saw glanceable notifications from an iPhone. That’s nice, but as I said last week, those are simply “table stakes” for this market. So is the time, of course. Favoriting a picture on your iPhone pushes the image to your Apple Watch. I’m not too jazzed about that; most people would rather see or show that picture on the larger screen of the iPhone they’re going to have with them. Tapping out little doodles or showing my heartbeat on someone else’s Apple Watch isn’t a market mover, either. I can’t help but think there’s more functionality we haven’t heard about yet.

Apple Watch

What feature(s) is going to get people to shell out money for a watch that’s a companion to their phone?

Siri is built into the Apple Watch; an upgrade to Siri with more contextual, proactive information would go a long way here. You can control an Apple TV with Apple Watch, just as you can with an iOS device. Most everything we’ve seen so far on the watch replicates what you can do with the iPhone; my take is that Apple has saved a few big features that will make people say, “I have to have that.”

How long is this thing supposed to last?

I don’t mean how long will it last on a charge; Cook already said we’ll likely be charging the Apple Watch nightly. More importantly, how long will the technology last and work with future software updates? Apple is pretty good at supporting a few cycles’ worth of legacy devices. So if you buy an Apple Watch in 2015, I suspect you won’t start “missing out” on advanced features until 2018.

Apple Watch

That’s a reasonable expectation if you’re spending $350 or so; if you want to upgrade in three years, it’s not going to break the bank. For those with more expensive Apple Watch editions, though, it’s a different story. Apple’s S1 system board and chip appear modular in design, but I’d want to know if the innards could be swapped from a watch costing thousands of dollars before I committed to the purchase.

Perhaps if you have that kind of money to spend on a watch, you don’t care as much about the upgrade path. I can’t speak to that because I don’t have that kind of cash. Even the less expensive models raise the question, though, because as chip cycles continue, components get smaller and we can fit more sensors in devices.

Not long to wait for answers

Those are my three biggest questions now and we have only 10 days or so before we find out the answers. In the meantime, since September, we’ve learned that fully native apps will come later to the Apple Watch, just as they did with the original iPhone. Tim Cook recently mentioned showering with an Apple Watch, so some level of water resistance is plausible. And as noted previously, the Apple Watch will ship in April to the first customers who find the timepiece a compelling purchase.