While most of the tech and business press focused on the functionality of the Apple Watch (digital crown, battery life, taptic engine, yadda yadda…) discreetly milling around the event were the fashion press, invited by Apple’s new fashion and design team. The fact that Apple Watch comes in three distinct collections — Apple Watch, Sport, and Apple Watch Edition — mirrors how fashion targets different demographics and tastes with separate lines.
To date, merely owning an Apple iPhone or iPad says something about who you are. With only a few choices on colors (black, white, neon, etc.), the only way you could customize Apple products to suit your style was to entomb their beauty with covers and cases. These items lived in the back of the store, hung up as general merchandise and an add-on to the core experience of the products.
But with Apple Watch, Apple now has to change the shopping experience as well — and not just sell a luxury product but also create a luxury fashion experience. When Apple Watch launches next year, look for former CEO Angela Ahrendts to make her mark as the new head of Apple Store. Here’s the challenge — Apple Watch will launch with 3 collections, 2 sizes, and 6 bands styles in 18 colors, 2 sizes = 108 permutations of Apple Watch. An entire section of the store will be dedicated to people not just looking at the watches, but also looking at it on themselves. New salespeople will have to be hired — people who understand both technology and fashion. If you get a chance, go visit a Burberry store and marvel at the level of attention and discretion that is paid to you as you shop. Part of the fashion buying experience is knowing when to step forward and help — and also when to step back and wait.
The breakthrough of Apple Watch isn’t in its form or function — but the fact that wearable technology for the first time is truly being treated as a fashion item. I’ve been buying alternative holders and bracelets for my FitBit on Etsy, in a desperate attempt to marry my fitness and fashion goals — and left wholly unsatisfied with the experience. I’m looking forward to buying the Apple Watch — the actual act of buying it as I would an expensive purse or pair of shoes. When would I wear it? What image do I want to be sending when I’m wearing the watch — or not wearing it?
The Apple Watch is still in its 1.0 origins and it has a long way to go before it becomes a beautiful, desired item. And that’s a good thing, because Apple will need time to transform itself into the truly luxury fashion retailer and brand that it wants to be. At stake is Apple’s business model — Android will always be the low-cost leader so Apple has to continually deliver a premium experience to deserve the premium price it demands. I look forward to parting with a serious chunk of cash next year — but only if Apple Watch matches my new spring wardrobe.
Charlene Li is the Founder and CEO of Altimeter Group.