Thoughts on Apple’s “Spring Forward” Event

- 871 words -

“Spring Forward” - those two words, if you ignore the pun, define a lot of what Apple’s recent event represented. In an industry where change is the only constant, Apple has been successful in redefining itself to fit their latest ambitions, without compromising their core values. In an effort to reinvent the timepiece and the notebook through the Apple Watch and new MacBook respectively, people are now starting to perceive them as a luxury or fashion brand (if they didn’t already before). You can’t really say that about any other technology company - Samsung may have gold models of their products and sell watches like Apple, but to associate these products or the fashion aspect of these products with the overall brand reveals only their incompatibility, thus confusion in consumer perception.

What we’ve seen Apple do in the past six months was make true design coexist with fashion, in terms of branding (thus the perception that consumers have of what Apple stands for as an overall company) and functionality in their products. It’s something that definitely rubbed me the wrong way at first, especially as a fan of Apple’s design-driven ethos. Since Steve Jobs’ return to Apple, the one word that could’ve defined the entire company up until the Apple Watch (or even the gold option for the iPhone 5s) was “design”. A lot of those long-standing principles were carried over to the Apple Watch - for example, in the way they talk about its materials in these videos - but at the end of the day, the only thing I can think of that can separate the Apple Watch from the competition on the technology side of things is hardware-software integration, or more broadly, the execution of the overall device in meeting their own expectations.

In terms of literally anything else, particularly fashion and luxury, the Apple Watch is leaps and bounds above the competition. Thus, Apple has made it clear that if you were to choose the Apple Watch over, let’s say an Android Wear watch, it’s because it’s more fashionable. A close second would probably be its design, as it is still heavily emphasised, but by the nature of the product category, this is a radical change - so radical that Apple was willing to change consumer perception of what Apple represents.

To understand the gravity of this change, here’s a thinking exercise: over Apple’s 30+ year history, think of a major product line that can claim to not be “technology first” or “design first”. Not the Mac, not the Newton, not the iMac, iPod, MacBook - not even the iPhone or iPad. Sure, some of these products have disrupted very different industries from what Apple directly operates in, but the only product I can think of that can make such a claim is the Apple Watch. Like I said, design is key in everything Apple does, but there’s no denying this is a “fashion first” product. Thus, Apple’s not just about design done to the best of their ability anymore, they're now also about fashion done to the best of their ability, and I think they’re doing a massively brilliant job doing this. (Apparently I’m a fashion expert now…)

What does this mean for the future of Apple, though? I’d be tempted to call this foray into fashion as a “departure”, but as I mentioned already, Apple is still a technology company driven by no-compromise design and creating the best customer experiences — in this same event, Jeff Williams made his keynote debut to talk about Apple’s efforts in improving medical research with ResearchKit alongside collaborations with research facilities. They even have a video about it. Clearly, Apple hasn’t departed from what they were before. I find it fascinating that Apple can still claim to be the company Steve left behind while also claiming to be one of the world’s top fashion brands.

The big picture dictates that if Apple can pull this off with fashion, they might as well pull off anything. Suddenly, it’s harder to deny that Apple can’t debut in certain industries with new product categories. Recently people have speculated that an Apple Car is in the works. That might’ve sounded completely insane years ago - and it still sounds completely insane to me now (How is the ID team going to design this thing in tandem with what they have on their hands now?) - but Apple has leapt over a huge hurdle in terms of their brand and overall image because of the work they’re doing with Apple Watch now. Now, it’s less impossible than it seemed to be.

This is something that the rest of the tech industry doesn’t seem to get. You can’t just label something as fashion. Everything about a fashion product, including its brand, has to be fashion. It takes risks to go out of the comfort zone and execute something to the point of immersing the rest of the company’s culture in its very nature, which is clearly what Apple has done with the Apple Watch. Sure, who’s to say that it will work or even come close to the success story that is the iPhone, but at least they know they can go on to do something else that’s radically different…