Damian Dovarganes / AP
On Friday morning, you'll be able to wander into an Apple Store an try on a watch, but you won't be able to walk out with it on your wrist. In fact, you won't even be able to buy one there — you'll have to go online for that. In short, Apple is going to make you wait again, but this time it's really hoping you do it somewhere other than in a long line in front of one of its stores.
Everything you need to know about the Apple Watch you can gather from this leaked Apple memo from retail head Angela Ahrendts. Her message to employees was simple: Convince Apple’s most ravenous early adopters to stop camping out in front of stores for days. Per the memo:
Get in line online
The days of waiting in line and crossing fingers for a product are over for our customers. The Apple Store app and our online store make it much easier to purchase Apple Watch and the new MacBook. Customers will know exactly when and where their product arrives.
This is a significant change in mindset, and we need your help to make it happen. Tell your customers we have more availability online, and show them how easy it is to order. You'll make their day.
This is likely a direct reaction to the iPhone 6 launch, where crazy lines prompted accusations of mass purchasing for clandestine Chinese markets. Oh, and this happened:
“Bags of feces” doesn’t exactly align with the Jony Ive aesthetic — but it's not so far off from Apple's product launch MO, at least until now. The company may have never officially endorsed long lines, but I’ve been in enough of them to know that Apple employees certainly do their best to facilitate them and pacify the crowds. Here’s a 2011 video of Apple employees running down a line of people waiting for an iPhone, high-fiving them like they’re coming out of a tunnel before an NFL game.
This ginning-up of excitement rather brilliantly leads to the iconic Apple consumer-mania photo op, like this classic one of tech evangelist Robert Scoble:
But no more, apparently.
There are plenty of possible reasons for Apple’s “change of mindset” for the launch of the watch (among them: a new retail head who comes from the more restrained world of fashion, a desire to make sure crazies don’t poop in bags and scare everyone). But really, the decision has everything to do with what kind of product the Apple Watch is — and why you need to wait to receive it.
An iPod or an iPad or an iPhone is a device that very quickly demonstrates how it can make your life better. Its myriad life-changing features are also packaged inside a device that looks and feels different than anything that came before it. Like something that fell out of the future, it’s tempting. You’re hooked before you ever see one in person.
But though the Apple Watch is new and possibly revolutionary, its features indicate something that's less like a new product and more like a peripheral device for your iPhone. Its form is, of course, also quite familiar: It looks like a watch. It may ultimately prove to change our lives unlike anything we've ever seen, but right now, it looks a lot like something we've already seen.
As a product, it’s extremely intimate — and early reviews reflect that, spilling a great deal of ink describing the way that the watch wakes, nudges, and reminds, and notifies you to do things with gentle haptic touches. By most early accounts it’s also a product that takes some time to get used to. The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo “fell hard” for the watch, but it took a few days.
Then there’s the luxury aspect: The type of person willing to shell out hundreds (or thousands) for this watch is not likely the type of person who’ll be willing to camp out for anything. High-fives and outsize enthusiasm — not to mention poop in bags — run counter to the standard quietly genteel luxury-goods-buying experience.
As such, selling the watch at its most basic price point — to say nothing of the $17,000 high-end model — is a slower and more nuanced process than anything Apple's attempted before. This isn't as simple as a new toy. This is something you need to drape across your wrist. This is something you need to touch and feel and swipe and play around with to understand.
Nam Y. Huh / AP
Apple’s new “get in line online” strategy doesn’t allow the user to test-drive the watch like an early reviewer — but it does buy the company a little bit of time. It buys some time for the early adopters, the ravenous line-sitters, and the fanboys to put this device out into the world, where curious potential buyers can see it on real wrists and ask to try it on and feel it in places that aren’t clean-lined, perfectly lit Apple Stores. It’s time during which a curious potential buyer can watch someone check in to a flight or open a hotel room door from afar and be won over. It’s also time when people can watch Apple’s (excellent) guided watch tour videos and think critically about whether this thing makes sense for them. It's time for all of us to adjust to a world where the watch isn't just a strange new category of Thing to spend money on, but something that's, if not necessary, exactly, at least very, very cool.
It’s anti-hype in a way that’s foreign to Apple. But it’s also a more reasoned play that could mean more loyal first-generation watch customers — and less of a chance that it is discarded into a junk drawer after three weeks.