Apple Watch and Apple Pay -You Watch and You Pay

By Peter Bernstein September 10, 2014

Will an Apple a day keep the doctor away? Apparently so according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

In his comments at the big Apple reveal day -- two iPhone 6s, iOS 8, Apple Pay and three Apple Watch versions were announced -- Cook, in extolling the virtues of the collection of new Apple Watches, explained, “It turns out there is a direct relationship between fitness and good health.”  Whether it is our good health or Apple’s is an interesting question.

Of course, it is likely to be a foregone conclusion that the answer to the health question above is that it is a win/win for a company based on the likelihood that its aficionados will want to be the first on their block to have one of these strap-on devices. 

While the event is fresh, I thought a few quick first impressions might be in order. In the name of full disclosure, it should be noted that I am not part of the Apple faithful, although it puts me in a distinct minority in my household, and do not own stock in Apple or any of its competitors.

First, as to the new iPhones and iOS 8, they were very much expected. Apple needed to fill in the form factor gap that was growing between it and its Android competitors. It was due for a product and OS refresh.

Second. Apple Pay, the company’s new wireless payment system will come with every iPhone 6 and 6 plus. That is a good thing, except it will not be backward compatible with previous versions of the iPhone, which do not have the near-field communications (NFC) capabilities required to make Apple Pay be able to pay—and your merchant to pay Apple.

From a security standpoint you do have to like the way this has architected. All a user needs to do is take a picture of their credit card, which is added to the Apple Passbook. At stores equipped with Apple’s point of service system (POS) you can then complete a transaction by putting your device next to the POS and sign for it using a fingerprint sensor in the home button.

Your credit card will be validated with your financial service company when it is entered into Passbook, and the image stored on the phone will not contain card numbers.  It will be treated as a secure element that will uniquely interact via secured links with the POS. What this means is that if the phone is lost or stolen, users can suspend payments on the device without cancelling their card.

Apple went to lengths to explain that it was not storing or capturing personal information of any kind, but was acting as a conduit of convenience. Only you, the merchant and your financial services company will know the details behind the authorized and validated transaction. 

Apple rolled out a series of financial services and retailing heavyweights who are already behind Apple Pay. These include: Visa, Mastercard and American Express, Bank of America and Chase, and retailers Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Walgreens, Subway, McDonalds (even drive through), Whole Foods, and Apple's own retail stores. Plus, it is touting that in the process it is making things easier for online merchants as well including Target and Groupon.

A lot is still unknown here.  For example, Apple did not disclose how much the new POS capability will cost merchants, and what other fees and terms of use may apply. Not being backward compatible also could be an issue since Apple Pay is not likely to create a tipping point to get Android users to switch allegiances, especially since many of them and Microsoft have struggled even though they have NFC and have for years. 

In fact, a word of caution is probably in order here.  In 1994, in an interview in Playboy Magazine, here is what Bill Gates had to say that is worth pondering:

 "The Wallet PC is a futuristic device. Instead of having tickets to the theater, your Wallet PC will digitally prove that you paid. It's our vision of the small, portable PC of, say, five years from now."

Apple, if nothing else, is good at building ecosystems and partnerships. Hence, getting the big guys in financial services and retailing to play ball might just turn the trick going forward. However, as others including Microsoft have found out over the years there is a tough road ahead and a lot of moving parts including the critical role of service providers in all of this. The first hack, and you know the bad guys will (pardon the pun) put a target on this, will be an interesting test of both the technology and the level of trust people have in the brand galaxy that will be the ecosystem.

Third, what about those watches?

At $349 and up, there is some nice new technology including an inductive charger, sapphire display, a digital crown for navigation, lots of personalization choices for the straps and the look of the face, a heart-rate senor, accelerometer and gyroscope for the fitness apps, and some other nice touches.

The problem I have with this and other smart watches is they need to be associated with the phone from my vendor of choice. This leaves open the question that if I need the phone to get utility from the watch, why do I need the watch? 

Maybe it is just me, but the fact that Apple did not call these as anticipated the “iWatch” and opted instead for Apple Watch is telling.  Smart watches and fitness trackers thus far are not really what could be classified as “personal communicators.”  Instead, they are accessories. Unlike what we have seen for years in the cartoons and on sci-fi shows, these are not standalone communicators.

Apple, as is its custom, has done a nice job on the user interface. As they said, they did not just shrink down an iPhone. The ergonomics are interesting, if not compelling, and some of the technology regarding the difference between using a light touch and a punch to activate features is nice. Plus, from a monetization standpoint you have to admire the moxie of needing to buy a new type of charger.

All of that said, to be honest the design seems boxy rather than stylish. In short, other than seeing Apple Watch as something I would need to spend many hours of my life that I could not get back learning to use, the combination of a watch with a fitness tracker would not get me to buy one. Indeed, what Apple needs to be cognizant of is that people wearing such devices at work are going to be looked upon as distracted workers, as they keep playing with/customizing capabilities, and get vibrated with alerts. 

So the earth did not move. The moon did not reverse its orbit. And, the cures for cancer, world hunger and world peace remain as elusive as ever. An Apple a day may not keep the doctor away but as a kind of coming out of the Steve Jobs shadow for CEO Cook, it should keep the money rolling in and calm investor fears after the celebrity identity problem. Whether it will disrupt either the wearable tech or mobile payments markets is just something we are going to have to wait and see about. If nothing else they have done well what they always do, which is Apple watches as many are willing to pay a premium for being part of their world. 




Edited by Maurice Nagle
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