Episode 018: Agree to Disagree

In this week’s episode Ben explains why he has changed his mind about Apple Watch. James is not convinced. We go on for a while.


  • Ben Thompson: What I Got Wrong About Apple Watch – Stratechery
  • John Gruber: Apple Watch: Initial Thoughts and Observations – Daring Fireball


Podcast Information

6 thoughts on “Episode 018: Agree to Disagree

  1. Wow. You guys were on a good streak. In my opinion, the last two episodes, Let’s end it here and Naked people where the two best episodes you’ve recorded. Two episodes which were refreshingly different yet similar in that they had lots of well made arguments and plenty of food for thought.

    Then you produce this episode.

    Ben did make very little sense and seemed to argue against a viewpoint that no-one was taking. Also, I remain completely unconvinced by Ben’s arguments (from what I could understand anyway). Maybe it was just the the thoughts weren’t fully formed when you started recording the episode. Anyhow, I was mostly confused throughout the whole thing.

    Still eagerly anticipating the next episode though.

  2. Ben, I felt like you nailed it in the first piece after the presentation; there’s no good reason “why”. The argument since sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself against the better judgement of your gut and experience that the “why” is just hidden, and the best marketing company in recent history couldn’t figure out how to communicate it.

  3. It seems that you guys were going in circles because you were arguing two different points.

    Ben was saying that we all wanted a watch that is an accessory to a phone, but the delta of change would be too little to warrant anyone buying it. So if they have the tech to make it a full computer, they should do it. Make it the iPhone Nano and not the new iPod Nano – it will better position themselves for the future when the phone is not around. Sure, you need a phone right now, but that’s not a big deal because we carry our phones anyway.

    [Ben’s basic point: the phone being necessary today isn’t a practical hindrance to the making the watch work as intended.]

    James does not dispute this point. Nobody disputes this point. Having the phone around DOESN’T really matter, from a practical standpoint.

    Here’s where James differs, even though he didn’t articulate it well, and what Ben never responded to: Requiring the phone today DOES matter, not because the watch isn’t independent, but because it means you have your phone with you. And if you have your phone with you, all of the fancy features the watch can do become irrelevant, since you should be doing them all on your phone. With the exception of a few items (Apple Pay, activity tracking, digital touch or whatever they called it, etc), there is no strong use case for the watch that warrants buying or even MAKING it if your phone is still with you. Not because the watch can’t function as intended, but because NOBODY NEEDS IT TO IF THEY HAVE THEIR PHONE ON THEM. The value of the watch only becomes clear when your phone is not around. With your phone in your pocket, looking for a movie or showing photos is a stupid thing to do on a watch. They did an incredibly poor job of explaining why you would want this even though you have a phone on you.

    [James’ basic point: The phone being necessary totally negates the vision of the watch, not from a functional standpoint, but from a use-case standpoint. They are selling something that makes no sense today specifically because the more powerful, larger, and still very portable phone is in your pocket.]

    Apple had three choices:
    1. Make a new iPod Nano [bad for the future of the device]

    2. Wait until 2017 to release a fully independent watch [bad for the development of the app ecosystem, when for all practical purposes it can work as intended today]

    3. Make the fully functional (although phone dependent) Apple Watch today, but focus on the features that make sense when you still have your phone on you. Downplay or outright hide anything that seems silly next to (or redundant with) your phone. Then, in 2017, release the independent Apple Watch (just a minor update with a cellular chip), and bring all the functionality that makes sense without your phone to the forefront at that point in time. The UI may change slightly, but if you designed it from the beginning with this end in mind, you can avoid any serious UI paradigm shifts.
    [Not AS good for the development of the app ecosystem, but people will still be able to quickly release great apps when the new version comes out (think of the iPad launch), and you have a product that MAKES SENSE both in 2015 and 2017.]


  4. Spot on. Apple could just ponder or tinker. That’s what Microsoft and Google are doing, announcing stuff, taking practice swings, and trying on new caps. Instead Apple is in the game.

    Apple can afford to “hobby” the Watch for a bit. It cannot afford a Microsoft sized failure to exploit every aspect of digital content, distribution, and delivery.

    Imagine what Apple will learn over the next five years about wearware, including interface, processors, sensors, software, hardware, and services.

    If you aren’t batting, the next best idea is pitching. The last place you want to be is in the dugout, polishing your balls.

  5. UPDATE:

    Forgot to mention the fourth option Apple had, which is what they did.

    4. Release the fully functional (but phone dependent) Apple Watch today, show off all of the amazing things it can do, but neither hide the redundant-to-the-phone-in-your-pocket features, nor explain that eventually the phone won’t need to be there.
    [Great for limiting any changes to the UI, but horribly confusing as to WHY we need such a device and potentially damaging the image of the “revolutionary new product category” as a solution in search of a problem. And then leading to discussions and debates like this. Notably a very UN-Apple-like approach. Even the first iPhone, although it wasn’t ready to be the hub of your digital life, had a compelling reason to buy one at launch.]

    Also, another point: I DO believe that wearables will inevitably become your digital hub, with all other devices connecting to IT, instead of it being an accessory to other devices. That said, we need to keep in mind that it’s still a device with a 2″ (or 1.5″) screen. Just because it holds all your personal data or cellular connections doesn’t mean that it makes sense to become the primary tool with which we perform any task. Sure, it should be CAPABLE of booking a hotel room or movie when your phone isn’t on you, but it should never be the ideal go-to device for that. 2″ is just too small, no matter how powerful the processor. A 2″ device should be focused on glanceable, quick interactions, and complex interactions only in a pinch.

    My point here is that even in 2017, the spotlight feature STILL shouldn’t be looking at photos or buying movie tickets. It should always be things like Apple Pay, push-to-talk, quickly checking email/messages, meeting reminders, etc. I don’t believe a 2″ screen will EVER be a compelling device to use for Instagram, Pinterest, Flipboard, iBooks, Movies, CandyCrush, Fandango, Orbitz, or Wikipedia. (Except, again, in a pinch or for glanceable content.) If this is the case, where were all the COMPELLING use cases for the Apple Watch in the presentation? They should be just as applicable today as in 2017.

  6. I think Charlie makes a couple of good points.

    Overall it seems that especially the jobsian Apple commentators might need to warm up to the idea that Apple is no longer able to provide the single great WHY each and every time. If we just assume that Apple themselves don’t know the why yet and that the presentation was primarily powered by a ‘googlian’ fascination with doable gimmicks it all just makes sense.

    I don’t think that’s a problem for Apple though. The watch simply does not need this one, superawesome feature which answers some universal why to be attractive to consumers. Unlike an iPhone which usually comes with a contract and costs lets say 1,760 over a period of 24 months the watch has a total cost of 350 which is less than 50c per day over the same period. Hence the bar for the watch to become a no-brainer as accessory is actually pretty, pretty low; if it makes you feel good about yourself only once a day (draw and send a heart, feel the pulse, etc.) it’s probably already worth it for many people.

    (just on a sidenote: The argument that people will be thoroughly confused and wrongly conditioned forever when finding out that an iPhone 5 or later is required is kinda outlandish as is the idea that people will not be able to understand that a future generation of watches might work standalone)

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