Apple Watch’s Evolving Pillars

September 8, 2022 / Ben Bajarin

Before I dig into a few product-specific observations about Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra, I want to make a broader point.

Apple Watch has been one of the more fascinating product evolutions I have seen from Apple. I say that because since it came to market, it has evolved well beyond where it started. This might seem like a natural product evolution, but in reality, this product took somewhat of a pivot. If you recall, when Apple first launched Apple Watch they outlined the pillars of value they thought the market would care about on day one. Those pillars were an extremely accurate timekeeping digital watch, communication (notifications/digital touch), and health. While those were the pillars of value, health is the main one that most Apple Watch customers gravitated toward.

With this particular product, I believe Apple knew they had something, but they weren’t entirely sure what specific features to emphasize for the market. I think Apple was more than willing to be a quick learner with Apple Watch and observe where the market gravitated to and then double down on those features. This is why health and fitness remained the emphasis of their innovation roadmap and the value of that pillar is a primary reason now over 100 million people own and use an Apple Watch. The main point I’m making is Apple was willing to launch a great product but let it evolve to more broadly fit the market needs and expand the total addressable market. What became clear from Apple’s fall launch event, and not just features around Apple Watch but also of the iPhone, one of the next main pillars Apple will lean on is safety.

Safety as a Service
I thought it was particularly interesting how Apple emphasized safety, not so subtly, with features that come to Apple Watch and the iPhone 14 Family. Looking at Watch specifically, which has proven itself as an intelligent guardian of your health, and the future of health on your wrist (Apple’s marketing lingo), it is now moving into also being something like a guardian angel. In fact, many of the customer testimonials Apple shared in their event film were stories where Apple Watch helped them from a safety perspective.

Apple Watch’s move deeper into personal safety aligns extremely well with the vision and product philosophy of Apple Watch. From the beginning, Apple stated the Apple Watch was the most intimate product Apple has ever created. With this product philosophy, it is easy to see how health and safety can become two significant pillars in the Apple Watch value story.

I mention the importance of safety as a pillar of the Apple Watch story because it helps us then think about where this product can continue to go. Speculation around Apple Watch’s upcoming health capabilities gets discussed the most but we can now add safety features into the conversation. When you layer on health, safety, and the blanket of privacy Apple brings to Apple Watch this product continues to evolve into something indispensable for its owners. And, perhaps even more interestingly, it becomes the kind of product that someone wants not just for their own health and safety but for their loved ones as well.

Apple Watch Ultra
What got quite a bit of attention during the Apple Watch announcement was a new form factor and product emphasis on adventure seekers and extreme athletes. Apple Watch Ultra is larger, vastly more durable, and has a much longer battery life than all other Apple Watches. It also has increased capabilities in GPS and an 86-decibel siren in case you are in an emergency situation.

With Apple Watch Ultra, Apple is striking right at the heart of Garmin which is the market leader in the extreme fitness product categories. Not to take anything away from the great products Garmin makes, but where I think Apple will separate itself is in all the other features beyond just extreme athletes that Apple Watch has to offer. Garmin still has Apple beat with several extreme smartwatch options that can go a week, or more, on battery. Garmin also offers InReach, which adds similar satellite safety features to the new iPhone 14 line at a monthly fee. I do hope Apple brings the satellite SOS feature to Apple Watch Ultra in the future.

While Apple is positioning Apple Watch Ultra for extreme athletes and adventurers, I do believe this product will appeal to a somewhat broader market as well. The increase in battery alone (36-60 hours with low-power mode on) could make it attractive to more than just extreme athletes. There may even be some who desire the bigger screen as well as the overall aesthetic of the Apple Watch Ultra. It is also interesting to think about Apple Watch Ultra, along with its connectivity and safety features, for first responders and front-line workers. The added durability here could allow it to be used in environments that other Apple Watch models can not.

Ultimately, it is interesting to see Apple expand the line of Apple Watch into new categories. Which will ultimately continue to expand the total addressable for Apple Watch and grow Apple’s opportunity in the space even more.

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