The success of Apple over the last decade was due to two major aspects of the company. Steve Jobs’ unwavering focus on creating products that could be perceived as magical and the practice he implemented of cannibalizing an existing successful product to create something better. The iPhone was everything the very successful iPod was and more. This was broken by the iPad which was basically a bigger iPod and the Apple Watch which didn’t really build on any of the earlier products. But if you look at the new LG Watch Sport, it basically builds on the smartphone and it can be a standalone offering having built in cellular capability and working much like the iPod originally did as a stand-alone device with the potential to grow into much more.
I think this new LG offering, which has been recently praised by historic Apple fan publication the Wall Street Journal, showcases the path to fixing the Apple watch.
Let me explain.
What Makes a Magical Product?
We haven’t had a lot of them. You could argue that the Sony Walkman was magical, folks lined up to buy various game systems, and we even had lines for a version of Windows, 95, at one time. I think Windows was a fluke and spoke more to how badly people wanted a computer that was both affordable and easy to use at the time. Of course, the latest products to produce lines are the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. In fact, the iPhone still gets lines although I think they are mostly out of habit now as there just doesn’t seem to be that much excitement about the iPhone 7 which largely did well because one of the phone’s biggest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, literally burned up.
But the elements are that the device enhances the buyers status, it does a few things that people want done really well, and it is both expensive enough to be somewhat exclusive and yet is still is perceived as a good value.
Apple has been breaking that last of late pushing hard on cutting costs while holding prices up and even threatening to increase them. It did this partially by cutting services, something they are now being sued for. You just don’t rip off customers like this and hope to maintain the idea of magic and value.
But the Apple Watch in particular broke the mold that Jobs had created. It didn’t even have the iconic iName the other products were famous for. But it was worthless without an iPhone, similar to the first iPod which didn’t sell well and its hard tie to the Mac. It was expensive, but—particularly at the high end—a very poor value (folks pointed to the expensive gold version as kind of an asshole indicator), and it conveyed very little status.
In short, the Apple Watch not only wasn’t and isn’t magical, it really can’t be.
LG Watch Sport
Now what makes the LG Watch Sport different is that it has phone capability built in, it is a true standalone product. The LG Watch Sport cleaned up the Android Wear interface so it actually now does a few things like telling time and monitoring exercise very well, and it is additive in that you can use it as a phone or to stream music.
It is potentially magical because it is so capable away from a smartphone and its only downside is that—like most connected small devices—it has battery life like a smartphone. With all of its features it may need to be charged before the day is over.
LG lacks the image that Apple provides but then it also operates under far slimmer margins and doesn’t have a reputation for taking advantage of customers. But LG does lack the marketing acumen that Jobs used so effectively when he ran the company, making it doubtful this otherwise great product will truly break out. But it could.
I think Apple has lost the ability to create magical products largely because, like most CEOs, Tim Cook is focusing too much on trying to cut costs and not enough on creating excitement around his offerings. Even the new name is dull and unexciting. The Apple Watch breaks the mold that Steve Jobs created and not in any good way. LG has created a product that could become the next iPod-like offering but it too will have to work on the naming and presentation of the offering to reach that potential.
Still if you think you might want a truly amazing connected product that can reside on your wrist this new LG is the top of the pile for the moment. It an indicator of two things—how quickly this class is advancing and how fast Apple is falling from its once amazing heights.