For the past seven months we have been told how the Apple Watch is the most personal device Apple has ever created. This past Friday, the general public had its first chance to find out what Apple meant as Apple Watch try-on appointments were rolled out. I selected one of the first time slots at my local Apple store as in many ways I was more interested in the way Apple had set up these try-on appointments than actually trying out the device. Needless to say, I ended up learning quite a bit.
While I have some constructive criticism and suggestions, I found the entire try-on process enjoyable. Despite following the Apple Watch beat for the past seven months, I still found there to be surprises. I can only imagine how someone not familiar with Apple Watch would likely feel overwhelmed by this new gadget for the wrist.
Going into the try-on I thought the Apple Watch Sport will be the most popular model, possibly by a pretty wide margin, and the black and white sports bands will be the most popular bands by a significant number. That view was only reinforced after trying on all of the different options.
No Lines and Limited Try-On Models
Despite Apple encouraging customers to make an appointment to try on the Apple Watch, I ended up simply walking in and getting taken care of as there were open try-on slots available. The store had been open for an hour, but things still seemed pretty quiet. While my specialist was friendly, helpful, and approachable, there was little in the way of agenda or questioning. "Which would you like to see?" was the first, and basically the only question asked of me during my appointment. Fortunately, I was already well aware of each band choice. Unfortunately, the store only had one size of each available watch band, often with the smaller 38mm case, which I found odd. I asked one of the workers why so many models were missing, and he said that was all they had received. Strange, but honest answer.
Tough Choice Between 38mm and 42mm Watch Case
I came into Friday with the assumption that the 38mm Watch case was being sold just to push the 42mm version, with few people actually opting for the 38mm. After Friday, I actually think the 38mm is indeed the right size for a certain percentage of the buying population. Recent data from Slice would seem to support that view, with their analysis pointing to approximately 30% of pre-orders in the U.S. going with the 38mm. The Apple specialist even said the 38mm looked better on my 140mm wrist, although I responded I wanted the extra screen real estate that came with the 42mm. It honestly was a close call between the two, as seen in the attached image.
The Watch collection stainless steel cases certainly had the finish of a higher quality product compared to the Sport collection, but I actually didn't look at the aluminum Sport as cheap or a toy compared to its more expensive counterpart. Instead, I think Apple was successful in having the Sport give off a more active vibe. I'm not sure I would feel as comfortable running with a stainless steel Watch.
Sports and Leather Watch Bands Were Most Comfortable
In what I just label as first-time jitters, I had quite a bit of trouble putting on nearly every watch band, especially the Sport. I didn't come away with any lasting concerns from this, but rather just thought it was interesting.
The bands are truly all about personal preference. I enjoyed the fluoroelastomer (sports band) followed by the stone leather loop. I found both to be the most comfortable on the wrist and the easiest to forget I was wearing a watch. The Milanese loop and link bracelet definitely had a more solid feel to them, reminding me of a regular men's watch, something I actually was trying to avoid with Apple Watch. The modern buckle didn't stand out to me as something I would be interested in wearing. With fitness and exercise in mind, I would have little interest in wearing anything other than the sports band. I wouldn't label any of the bands as inferior, so I think Apple succeeded with this first round of watch bands. I would be interested to see where things go from here concerning the bands.
Random Trying-On Musings
Not following any agenda, I continued trying on every watch model that they had in stock, often wearing two at a time for comparsion. All the while, the specialist was super careful to not have any of the watches fall on the ground. I had to keep my wrist above the counter, especially when I was taking a watch on and off. My only thought was that Apple must be very nervous about tight supply as the store was probably told to make these first demo units last. The other noticeable activity was the near-constant wiping down of both Apple Watch try-on units and the Apple Watch display table that had a large piece of glass covering all of the Apple Watch models. There is something off-putting with seeing someone clean something you just had on your wrist right in front of you.
The Apple Watch security guard was also hard to ignore, making sure that no one ran off with a non-functional $399 Apple Watch Sport.
Apple Watch Demo Unit
After I ended my try-on session by declaring "I guess I tried every watch you have here," I preceded to use one of the Apple Watch demo units on the other side of the store. I was able to quickly observe what some had said was a interface that took some getting used to, but over the span of 15-20 minutes that awkwardness went away. To be completely honest, I am a bit disappointed that so many early reviewers from the Watch keynote demo made such a big deal out of this issue. I think it was blown way out of proportion.
The only thing that I needed help with was changing the utility watch face to solar. After being shown that a Force Touch was the answer, I then spent the next 15 minutes engulfed in the various watch face options. I actually found this feature to be the most interesting. There really is something mesmerizing about the various watch faces including the motion options.
As a sign of how ingrained my iPhone and iPad usage is, I gravitated towards using my finger on the Watch screen instead of the Digital Crown. While some of that may be due to the fact that the watch wasn't on my wrist, I was thinking that the Digital Crown was more of a required feature in order to use the watch, instead it would appear to just be one way of gaining more precision.
I found all of the demo apps worked flawlessly with no noticeable lag or hiccups. After 45 minutes of trying the demo Apple Watch, I noticed the store was getting more crowded and the available demo units were dwindling, so I moved over to play with the new MacBook.
The thing that struck me the most during my try-on was that Apple was doing something completely new (selling a wearable product) with the same retail strategy that Apple Store has come to be known for. Instead of renovating each store or creating a special Apple Watch area with a new layout, Apple stuck with the well-known large rectangular wooden table scheme. This process even extended to Apple's store-in-a-stores in Tokyo, London, and Paris.
The Apple Watch area in the store I visited comprised a demo/try-on station table, an adjacent Watch display table, and then additional try-on stations on one wall and demos on the opposite wall. In total there were eight try-on stations and eight demo stations. Considering this was one of the smaller stores in Apple's retail footprint, I would imagine bigger stores had multiple times the number of demo stations.
Ultimately, I view the effort to remain nimble as the guiding principle behind the Apple Watch try-on process. Apple had given us clues not to expect anything too dramatic with the way the stores would look with Apple Watch as Apple's recent financial filings indicated there wouldn't be many store renovations and we got a look at Jony's new Watch display table at Colette in Paris this past September, looking very similar to the now iconic wooden tables but with a cut out in the middle covered by glass.
I noticed that most of the Apple store employees were still somewhat in awe of the Watch display table, so I asked when it arrived. Just a little while ago was the answer. It is important to keep in mind that all of this Apple Watch try-on sales process was installed in nearly 400 Apple stores overnight, or in some cases that morning. I wonder if this gives us clues as to how Apple will sell new products in the future, relying on the same wooden table theme.
Would I Change Anything?
Having gone through the try-on process, I asked myself if there was anything I would have changed. Surely, each step was created by Apple's retail and marketing teams (not to mention Jony and his team), so I spent some time figuring out the pros and cons of the major decisions that went into the process.
Apple is accomplishing two goals with these Apple Watch try-ons: having people test the various watch models and then being able to interact with a working Apple Watch. Apple chose to split these two goals, which I suspect is more related to practicality and timing. It would be hard to have people not only try various watch bands on, but also play with the device on their wrist. For example, I spent 15 minutes trying on various watch bands, but then 45 minutes playing with the demo unit. With the current layout, customers can also play with a demo unit while waiting for a try-on appointment, which is an added benefit of splitting the two. I really didn't have a problem with interacting with the watch on a table versus on my wrist. Having demo units on a table also made it easier for an Apple Store employee to help with any questions that I had about the Watch interface or an app, in addition to having more than one person look at the same watch demo unit.
As for the actual trying-on process, there are two fundamental preference tests: watch case sizes and watch bands.
- I would have liked to see a more formal process with answering which watch case (38 mm or 42mm) was a better fit for me. A few people on Twitter told me there is indeed a way to tell what is right or wrong for watch sizing. The specialist did comment on what he thought looked better on me after I showed a bit of confusion, but I was still left a bit unsure. While this comes down to personal preference, I would have liked a bit more help.
- As for the bands, I would have preferred a set up where I know more about the watch bands. Simply going up to a demo unit and being asked which band I wanted to see isn't going to work for most people. I was well aware of the watch going into the process, having memorized all of the models. I would suspect most consumers wouldn't know the first thing about the band options. While much of this process could be discussed by the specialist instead of having printed material or a display, I think there was room to explain the bands a bit more.
I suspect the whole concept of having the specialist stand next to me instead of across from me over a watch case like in every other retailer was a byproduct of Apple trying to make the try-on fit in with the current store layout. For the Edition, a conference room was used for demos in some cases while other stores simply relied on a quiet back corner, which doesn't exactly sound as an ideal option for a "luxury" experience. While having a "watch bar" with chairs and a team of Apple Store employees behind the bar sounds interesting, I think it all goes back to Apple simply being unable to incorporate such change into the current footprint without a lot of additional work. I also am not sure if a "watch bar" would make it easier to assist customers with putting on various watch bands.
Ultimately, I think Apple did a great job with my try-on appointment. While going through the process early Friday morning revealed some early jitters on the part of the Apple Store specialists, backed up by others who told me they were repeatedly given incorrect information about the watch, I thought the overall process worked fine.
Over the next two weeks, Apple will be in a position to give hundreds of thousands of consumers the chance to try Apple Watch. It cannot be overstated how important these try-on appointments are for Apple Watch's success. They give Apple a competitive advantage against others that will undoubtedly enter the wearable space. I would expect Apple to fine-tune the process over time, but at least on Day One, I had a great time trying on Apple Watch. It is rather amazing how the average Apple retail store employee's job description has changed with Apple Watch. The involvement and personal interaction required when helping people try on various Apple Watches supports the idea that the retail store employees play the most crucial role out of the entire experience.
Looking at the crowd, I actually didn't get an early adopter vibe that we have assumed would be the only ones interested in the device. Obviously, going on a weekday morning resulted in the lack of children and teenagers, but I would say the crowd interested in Apple Watch was generally in-line with any other day at the Apple store. I was able to talk with a few "non-early adopter" people about their first impressions about the device. Interestingly, their first comment was that it was a cool watch, with fun customizable watch faces. I go back to when Apple first introduced the watch and I was explaining the device to people, even then the watch faces were the primary talking point. I really think there is something to be said with how normal people look at Apple Watch as primarily a watch that can do other things. I also received a comment about going to see the device made them want it even more, an obvious goal that Apple had in mind with the try-on appointments.
When I left the Apple Store, I asked myself how would I describe the device in one sentence. Without much thought I said, "It's cool." I've been very adamant that people have been overthinking the watch for the past seven months. When it comes down to it, the watch is simply a cool device and my try-on experience reinforced that view.
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I went into more detail on my trip to the Apple Store for Apple Watch on Above Avalon Podcast Episode 20.