Soft launch: Why the Apple Watch isn’t getting the ‘blockbuster’ debut it deserves

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It’s no secret that Apple’s launch plan for the Apple Watch hasn’t gone as well as the original iPhone and iPad launches.

Extremely limited supplies have led to long wait times for pre-orders. The lineup of choices is so complex that the company needed to give people weeks to try them on in stores before they were supposed to be available. And the confusing online-only purchase process advertised in Apple’s retail stores didn’t initially disclose that stores won’t have any units in stock on launch day. No part of the process has thrilled potential customers.

Yesterday, Apple’s SVP of Retail Angela Ahrendts sent an internal video memo to employees about the Apple Watch rollout in an attempt to help answer questions and assuage concerns about the many issues plaguing the launch, not the least of which is the lack of a “blockbuster launch” at retail outlets that customers and employees alike have come to expect from Apple. Some people took the video as an admission of guilt by Ahrendts. But although she may share responsibility for some of Apple’s missteps, she isn’t solely or even largely responsible for the issues.

Here’s where I believe things fell apart during this launch…

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Opinion: Don’t judge – Apple Watch accessories are supposed to be personal, not universal

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Over the past fifteen years, I’ve seen certain commenters pick the same fight literally every time Apple releases another device: “are accessories really needed for _____?” Fill the blank in with “iPod,” “iPhone,” “iPad,” “Apple TV,” or “Apple Watch” and you’ll see how the answer has eventually turned out to be “yes” every time. Even though I’ve tested virtually every type of Apple accessory out there, I couldn’t help but shake my head when companies first announced cases for the Apple TV’s remote control. Crazy, right? But there were eventually behind-TV mounts, Bluetooth keyboards, and universal remote controls that became truly handy for even Apple’s least-accessorized device.

Now the Apple Watch is coming, and despite Apple’s focus on its purely aesthetic customizability — including welcoming third-party band makers to the party — the “is this necessary?” comments are appearing again. “Nothing like a faux carbon fiber decal on your watch to convey your sense of good taste,” said one commenter, who separately opined that “every protective product listed here is the modern day equivalent of plastic-covered furniture.” To be honest, I personally agree with the first sentiment, but I’m not the target market for stickers. And I can still remember some people describing iPhone cases as plastic-wrapped furniture, back before Apple started selling them, too. So who’s actually right here, a handful of anonymous commenters acting as arbiters of universal style, or consumers looking to have fun customizing their new toys to their personal tastes?…

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Opinion: The pros & cons of existing streaming music services & what Apple’s needs to succeed

Beats Music iTunes Festival

Apple’s upcoming music streaming service comes at an interesting time in the industry. Jay-Z recently relaunched his own streaming music service dubbed Tidal, recruiting help from other A-list artists like Rhianna, Alicia Keys, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, and Kanye West. There are existing services from Spotify, Beats, Google, and others. All of these offerings have their own pros and cons, but I’ve used them all and none of them accomplish streaming music perfectly. Apple now has the opportunity to take the best features of each service and offer its own competitive service.

Last week, Ben Lovejoy broke down exactly what Apple’s streaming music service would need for him to stop buying music. Even without Apple’s new service, I’ve already done that. Most of my music is streamed from Spotify. Rarely do I actually buy albums on iTunes, and I almost never buy physical CDs. The problem with this approach is no streaming music service gets it 100 percent right for me.

I’m hoping that Apple incorporates the best of each existing subscription music service into its own upcoming music service. What are those key points? Let’s discuss…

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Opinion: Roku’s new media players use voice search and apps to make Apple TV feel old

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Just so there’s no ambiguity on this point, I’m definitely an Apple TV fan. The first-generation model was a (literally) hot mess, but Apple did a much better job with the streamlined second- and third-generation versions, which I use every day and have strongly recommended for years. If you have an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, the Apple TV is one of the top three accessories you can buy for under $100, and nearly a no-brainer at Apple’s recently announced $69 price point.

Even as a fan, though, I give Apple TV’s chief competitor Roku great credit for developing compelling alternatives. According to reports, Roku is the number one seller of media streamers, and has been outselling the Apple TV for some time now. While it’s true that sales don’t necessarily reflect quality, Roku has earned its numbers by frequently iterating on its products — ironically unlike Apple, which has spent years letting an old Apple TV design chug along as a “hobby.” The difference in Roku’s and Apple’s approaches became starker yesterday when Roku released the new Roku 3 with Voice Search ($100) and new Roku 2 ($70), updates to two of its already-successful devices. These media streamers include several of the key features Apple should be adding to the Apple TV, including voice search, downloadable apps, games, and more…

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Opinion: Could the 1080p Apple TV 4 hint at a 4K Apple TV set?

Apple TV simple

The Apple TV set-top box hardware is expected to be updated this summer after 3 years since the last real refresh and a recent price drop from $99 to $69. While the last Apple TV upgrade boosted video output from 720p to 1080p, the rumored Apple TV 4 is not believed to support ultra high definition 4K video output featured on newer TV sets. Here’s why that’s no surprise and what I think it could mean for an actual Apple TV set:

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Opinion: How soon is too soon for an Apple Watch 2?

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Apple’s upcoming retail overhaul for displaying the Watch

A lot of my techie friends are saying that the entry priced-Apple Watch Sport will be their pick next month, and not because of the exterior look. The theory is that Sport is the cheapest way to experience Apple’s new product category in 2015, and since the second-gen Apple Watch will inevitably be upgraded, why pay a premium this year for nicer materials such as stainless steel and sapphire glass?

Despite the Apple Watch’s desire to marry jewelry with technology, it hasn’t lost the baggage gadgets carry, namely the reality that they’ll be outdated and replaced in a relatively short period of time. If the Apple Watch evolves anything like the original iPad did when it became the iPad 2, the differences could be dramatic.

Personally, when I think about getting more perceived value out of a higher-priced stainless steel Apple Watch rather than testing the waters with the cheaper aluminum model, I’m more concerned with how soon the Apple Watch 2 will be announced rather than how much more functional the newer device could be. No matter what happens with the first-generation model, an Apple Watch 2 will come to market. How will Apple balance keeping the Apple Watch evolutionary momentum going with keeping the first-generation model “modern” for enough time to satisfy early adopters?

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Opinion: Why iPod nano’s three-week battery life is and isn’t a fair benchmark for Apple Watch longevity

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Over the past month, I spent several weeks testing the battery of an Apple watch. Not the Apple Watch, of course, but the first product Apple released with the option of being worn like one: the sixth-generation iPod nano. Back in 2010, Steve Jobs mentioned during the “instantly wearable” nano’s introduction (video at 26:30) that one of Apple’s directors planned to use it as a watch. That brief aside directly inspired the creation of nano watchband makers Lunatik and Hex, as well as simple, cheap bands from Apple accessory specialists including GriffinIncipio, and SwitchEasy. A year later, Apple updated the nano’s software to expand its watch functionality, adding “16 new digital clock faces and improved built-in fitness features.” The nano-as-watch test was at least somewhat successful; Hex even shared pictures showing Snoop Dogg and Justin Bieber wearing its nano watch bands.

Today, Apple is three weeks away from releasing the “real” Apple Watch — a product that clearly shares the old iPod nano’s DNA, but was thoroughly redesigned from top to bottom. Yet despite including a battery that’s around twice as powerful as the nano’s, the Watch is promising only 18 hours of typical battery life, maxing out at three days if used solely as a watch in a low-power mode. So when I ran a “watch-only” test of my used four-year-old nano and found that it ran for just over three weeks, keeping perfect time without ever touching a charger (or synchronizing with an atomic clock), I was genuinely surprised. It turns out that Apple really optimized the nano to work well as a timepiece without requiring constant recharging. So what happened with the Apple Watch?…

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Opinion: As Nintendo ponders iOS, it’s time for Mac console game emulators to shine

mariogalaxyemu

When Nintendo announced last week that it will collaborate with DeNA to release iPhone and iPad games, gamers split into two camps: people intrigued by the promise of brand new Nintendo titles designed for mobile devices, and others — including myself — who expect Nintendo to release shallow mobile minigames, mostly to promote console titles. Nintendo hasn’t actually committed to bringing the Super Mario games people love into the App Store; instead, it’s saying only that its characters will appear in new titles that won’t require complex controls. The implication is that only Nintendo consoles are capable of playing Nintendo’s console games.

I disagree with that. For years, Macs and PCs have been able to run thousands of classic console and arcade games, including Nintendo’s best-known titles, using emulators. These free programs let discontinued, often HDTV-incompatible games play on computers — in many cases, with noticeably better graphics than you remember. Freed from the fuzzy, low-contrast televisions people used to own, classic games can look pixel-sharp on Retina displays, and some emulators actually improve the edges and textures of 3-D objects. Nintendo may not want you to play its prior console games on your favorite Apple device’s screen, but thanks to emulators, it’s possible today. The picture above? That’s Super Mario Galaxy, running on a Retina MacBook Pro…

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10 reasons why Apple is to blame for the decline of iPad sales

KGI

It has been a tough slough for Apple’s iPad since the height of its popularity in 2013. Facing its second straight year of negative growth, there isn’t a consensus on why iPad sales have declined. I believe the slump is attributable to a combination of factors.

Apple CEO Tim Cook called the declining iPad sales a “speed bump” last year before the launch of the 2014 models, but we haven’t seen what Apple plans to do to rejuvenate the product. From my point of view, Apple itself has done more to hurt iPad sales than any external factor, such as Microsoft or Google.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here’s a full explanation of my theory…

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Opinion: My cable subscription woes and the appeal of an ‘Apple Cable’ service

Apple TV HBO Now

My cable provider is pretty terrible. I don’t need to name any names because this likely applies to your cable provider as well. They are all horrible. I often experience drops on popular channels, get bonus filler channels that no one wants, and see indiscriminate additional subscription fees and charges without any real reason. This Onion article, though it is satire, doesn’t stray too far from the truth.

For a very casual TV watcher, it’s not a great experience – to put it mildly.

So the prospect of an Apple web TV service with a price tag of around $40, as the WSJ and others reported last night, is highly appealing to me if it means I can catch the few shows I watch now without the hassle of my cable subscription. I’ll still be tied to the monopolies for Internet service which isn’t terrific, but the theoretical ‘Apple Cable’ service has the potential to fix a number of problems for me.

Apple started off its March event with the announcement that HBO Now, the premium network’s new $15/month web service, will be available with 3-month exclusivity on the App Store and Apple TV at launch next month. While we’ve heard for quite some time that Apple is developing a web TV service, and the upcoming HBO Now channel seems to be the best taste of what that could offer. I’m hopeful that the potential ‘Apple Cable’ can solve my cable subscription woes. Here’s how:

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Opinion: Don’t hold your breath for real Nintendo games on your iPhone or iPad

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My feelings for Nintendo are complicated. I’ve loved its games ever since the original Donkey Kong, owned every Nintendo console (including the Virtual Boy), and recommended the Wii U as the best game console for families and kids. But if I was mildly displeased with Nintendo as a company during its haughtiest years — the time when most of its key third-party developers walked away — I’m downright angry with it today. At a press conference in Japan this morning, Nintendo announced its second collaboration with a mobile game publisher in two months, the headline from which was what millions of people have been waiting years to read:

“Nintendo to start making iPhone games, including first-party IP like Mario.”

Sure, the official Nintendo press release actually says “smart devices” including phones and tablets, but iPhones and iPads are a safe bet. The press release also says “gaming applications” rather than games, but a press release from Nintendo’s new mobile partner DeNA confirms that the companies will indeed produce mobile games together. Just think about it: Super Mario World on the iPad! Donkey Kong Country on the iPhone! That’s just what everyone has wanted! But there’s a catch…

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Opinion: Do we need to use the Apple Watch to know whether we want one?

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I’m a self-confessed smartwatch skeptic. Early attempts like the original Pebble just seemed to me an extremely ugly solution in search of a problem. Some of the later models, like the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R (as well as the rather familiar-looking latest Pebble), overcame the ‘ugly’ part, but I still couldn’t see a reason to want one. I haven’t worn a watch for more than a decade, and smartwatches weren’t showing me any reason to change that.

Then along came the Apple Watch. It’s far and away the best smartwatch I’ve seen to date, and for someone deeply embedded into the Apple ecosystem, it would also be the most logical smartwatch to go for if I were to go for one at all. Yet I’m still not seeing a compelling user case–and as Benjamin observed in his own recent opinion piece, Apple doesn’t appear to be doing much to help me.

However, I’m not ready to join the ranks of those dismissing it, and there’s one very good reason for that …  Read more