To coincide with the start of pre-orders, Apple started allowing customers to schedule appointments that allow you to try on the Apple Watch. With pre-orders sold in a matter of hours, some models less than 30 minutes, some of these appointments have become people seeking affirmation post-purchase. Did I buy the right size? Do I love the band I chose and what new bands should I buy? But this goes well beyond sizing and bands. After all, this isn’t any ordinary watch. This is the future, on your wrist. While many flocked to the Apple Store during the first weekend, today was the first time I had to experience the Apple Watch.
Making an appointment could not have been easier. If you visit the Watch section of the store, there is a link to schedule a try-on. You enter your location and they’ll provide you with a number of available appointments. I can’t speak to availability over the weekend, but I had my choice of pretty much any time and that was a day before my visit.
I showed up as the staff was finishing their pre-opening prep-talk which was followed by enthusiastic clapping. The store had no less than 25 or so employees and they easily outnumbered the 10 or so customers who were waiting for the opening. I was immediately greeted and ushered to the try-on table. They looked up my account. Having heard they will cater based on your favorites, I had made a point to favorite a few of the watches and bands that I was considering. The employee opened up a draw and simply asked which I wanted to see. Ok, how about a 38mm stainless with sport band. “No, I’m sorry. We don’t have that. Here, you can pick from these and here’s a 42mm Apple Watch Sport.” I ended up asking to see a 38mm stainless and 42mm, both with classic black buckle. They were presented on what looks like a large black mousepad. I’m sure jewelers have a name for this, but I’m a tech guy and spend little time at fine jewelers.
“Go ahead, try one whichever one you’d like.” There was no sizing or placing on my wrist. Even as I struggled to understand how the Sport band gets worn, there was nothing more than a little coaching. I imagine this isn’t very different from shopping for a Fossil watch at a Macy’s counter. It felt ordinary. To be perfectly honest, I enjoyed the freedom of bouncing between bands and sizes. At one point, I had two watches, so I could properly gauge the difference in sizes. I don’t typically wear watches, but when I do, it’s a diminutive Timex from J.Crew. I avoid wearing my larger Breitling, because it’s too big. It’s a beautiful watch, but it collects dust almost 365 days of the year. Size matters. Having seen those Pebble monstrosities, I didn’t want to wear something that screams giant tech watch. To my surprise, both sizes are what I would call relatively small and either scream, “Nerd alert.” Having ordered the 38mm, I’m already plotting my move to 42mm. Pictures make this thing look giant and it’s everything but that. If you haven’t pre-ordered yet, don’t be afraid to go big. It’s more like going medium. My jump to 42mm will have to wait, thanks to the short supply/ high demand for Apple Watch. My try-on thus far had been ordinary, but I had yet to tap on the digital crown, to feel the power of force touch. To beckon Siri.
For lack of a better term, the digital crown is your home button. Watch number one. “Press, nothing.” Watch number two. “Press, nothing.” Three was going to be my magic number. “Press, nothing.” No boom, no magic, just a trio of dead batteries. Is this a glimpse into the future, into the world of wearable tech? Peering into a black hole of nothingness. To the right of the try-ons are functioning tethered watches. In an odd twist, the try, while important, become secondary. Once I nailed down the size, I wanted to better understand the built-in apps. I wanted to clutch the digital crown, to swipe around the sapphire display, to feel the power of wearing a steady downstream of my most important communications. For today, my try-on was just that, a try-on. Nothing more. Nothing magical.
From early reviews, early concerns over battery life have somewhat diminished. It seems likely that you’ll get a full day’s use, but it becomes another device that will need to get charged over night. Your iPhone can pick up power during the day. You can charge it in your car, at work or power users can opt for a battery case. Your phone isn’t strapped to you, so it’s easy to power up. The watch is different. It’s meant to be worn and charged at night. It’s not designed to sip power at every turn. Battery life of any wearable can be a achilles heel. Showing an array of dead watches reinforces consumer concerns.
Retail experiences for new products often have that new car smell. Employees, fresh from training, are eager to put those directives into action. I left the Apple Store fully informed. I didn’t need someone to physically put the watch on my wrist. I preferred the casual experience and interaction with the employee. We talked technology. It wasn’t forced and I enjoyed our conversation. He was also relatively knowledgable about the product and the demo was good. I had already bought the watch and nothing in the span of a 15 minute retail interaction was going to dull my enthusiasm. My wife, who came along for the try-on, left unimpressed. “It’s nice, but I don’t need one. I need my iPhone.” Flanked by an Apple employee and yours truly, there’s little you can do to sell a non-responsive black box, one that ultimately is an extension or accessory to your iPhone.
This is an entirely new product, one that requires more than the brand cachet of Apple. Fundamental to the Apple Watch retail experience should be that personal connection that comes with wearing the future. Three days in and the retail experience was far from magical.