The Apple Watch and the End of Hardware

On $10,000 watches and $200 Chromebooks.

March 9, 2015
Can you come up with a scenario in which you would want to buy an Apple Watch? 
For the Apple Watch to do anything useful it needs to be paired with an iPhone. This means that the Apple Watch will spend its life within a few feet of an iPhone. Is there anything that you need to do on your wrist that you don’t want to do on your phone? Why would you want to read or send messages, or hail an Uber ride, on the tiny screen of the Watch when your phone is as close as your pocket?
Apple is producing a product that we don’t need, for a problem that we don’t have.  
The Apple Watch should be of little interest to our community, save one thing. Does the Apple Watch signal an end to hardware?

Have our gadgets evolved to a point where replacing them on a regular (2 to 4 year) replacement cycle no longer makes any sense?

What are the hardware devices that you use most of the time?
Laptop:  I’m typing this blog post on a 13-inch MacBook Air. This laptop does everything that I need. The newly announced 2 pound MacBook looks fancy, but it doesn’t do anything much different from today’s models. A real breakthrough, and a reason to upgrade, would be really long battery life. Until we have a fundamental breakthrough in battery science, I imagine that I’ll hold on to my laptop.  I don’t need anything thinner or lighter than a MacBook Air. The Air is plenty fast enough, has enough storage, and the screen is totally fine.  Are we at a point where replacement cycles for laptops will start lengthening out?  How long have you had your laptop, and how long do you plan to hold on to your machine?
E-Reader:  Every book that I read is read on either a Kindle Paperwhite or an iPhone (Audible app or iOS Kindle app). Amazon seems to be getting close to a Kindle e-reader that will need infrequent replacement. Maybe I’m one Kindle upgrade away (perhaps the next Kindle Voyage) from an e-reader that has a replacement cycle closer to a dishwasher than a gadget.  An e-ink e-reader needs a good screen, fast and seamless page turning, a bright indirect lighting system, and long battery life. The Kindle Paperwhite does all of these things. The real value add to the Kindle is not the device, but the ecosystem of Kindle books and Whispersync connected audiobooks. It is the content (the books), not the device, that really matters.
Phone: Did you read the Economist cover article last week - Planet of Phones? When The Economist calls the smartphone the “defining technology of the age” it is not wrong. About 2 billion people use smartphones in 2015, a number that is set to double by 2020. 500 million smart phones will be sold in China this year alone. We don’t talk enough about how global postsecondary education will change when 80% of the worlds’s adult population holds a cloud-connected computer in their hand. The smartphone however, like our other gadgets, risks becoming a commodity.  The fact that we upgrade our phones so often is more a function of the near criminal pricing of the locked-in plans from the quasi-monopolistic and lightly regulated cellular providers than the speed of technology change.  A basic smartphone, with an affordable pay-as-you-go plan, would not need to be upgraded very often.
The Apple Watch may be the best argument for the Chromebook. I’d love to see a campus that committed a standardized ecosystem of cheap hardware (Chromebooks) running consumer-grade cloud services (Google Drive). Google has done very little to push into the higher ed market.  That is too bad, as an all Chromebook / Drive campus would make for an interesting experiment. There is something about a $10,000 Apple Watch that makes a $200 Chromebook all the more compelling.
Can you think of any reason why you may ever buy an Apple Watch?
Are you planning on trading in your laptop for the latest MacBook at the earliest opportunity?
What gadgets do you use the most, and how long do you plan to keep them?


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