Last Tuesday, Tim Cook stood before a packed crowd at the Flint Center in Cupertino, CA and unveiled the “next chapter in Apple’s history.” Following an intro video, Cook returned to the stage with fists pumping into the air and the all-new Apple Watch strapped to his wrist; the crowd erupted in applause. It was a big moment for Cook and Apple alike. The Apple Watch announcement marked the first entry into a new product category since Cook took the reins from Steve Jobs at Apple.
Of course, Apple owned the headlines following Tuesday’s big announcement. Blog posts, twitter feeds, and newspaper headlines finally put the rumors to rest, and rightly so. The mysterious iWatch, iTime, or now as we know it, Apple Watch, fused technology and fashion together like never before—a feat that, perhaps, only a company like Apple could pull off in such a remarkable way. More than just a watch, Apple entirely rethought the ubiquitous watch crown, created an entirely new OS experience, and wrapped cutting-edge technology in a truly elegant design.
With the new product reveal, Apple enters uncharted territory. It is yet to be determined if the new Apple Watch is a cash cow like the iPhone and iPad. It’s an unproven product in an unproven category. A risky move. Or is it? As my eyes were glued to the keynote, I could’t help but consider Apple’s revolutionary new product. This bold, new move had already been validated. And validated in a way that has transformed how products can be brought to market.
During the Charlie Rose interview on Friday, Tim Cook said, “An intense team was working on this [Apple Watch] for three years.” Additionally, in an ABC interview Cook told David Muir, “We started working on it after his [Steve Jobs] passing.” In other words, the decision was made to create the watch very shortly after Steve Jobs passed away. When that was exactly, we will probably never know for sure.
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Regardless of when the project began development, I think it is even more interesting to consider why Apple began developing a watch. Of all things Apple could create, why choose a watch? In an interview with Business Week in 1998, Jobs made the famous remarks, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” But, could it be in the case of the Apple Watch, that the people showed Apple what they wanted?
Nearly four years ago, on November 23, 2010, something unheard of happened on an up-and-coming site called Kickstarter. A newly launched project had surpassed the site’s previous record and raised just shy of $400,000 in just one week’s time. At the time, Kickstarter was not a household name as it is today. The now popular crowd-funding platform had only been operating for just over a year. And then the LunaTik came out of nowhere to change what everyone thought was possible on Kickstarter, including the site’s founders.
Scott Wilson, the creator of the TikTok and LunaTik, was unable to sell his idea of a wristband that converted an iPod Nano into a watch to manufacturers. So, he put the idea on Kickstarter with a modest goal of $15,000. After 30 days, his project far surpassed his original goal and received $942,578 in funding. What manufacturers deemed a failure, consumers declared a success. The wildly successful project held onto the Kickstarter funding record for 441 days. Kickstarter’s goal of circumventing traditional investors and validating an idea through the masses was confirmed with the LunaTik. Kickstarter’s revenues more than tripled the following year.
What is truly amazing though is that in the case of the LunaTik, the accessory actually drove the sales for the core product. As Wilson later mentioned on a Kickstarter update, “76% of the backers bought a Nano because of the TikTok or LunaTik.” In other words, three-quarters of the people that backed the project purchased a $149 iPod after purchasing a $50 watch band.
Apparently, people really wanted an entirely new watch experience. But, the record-breaking Kickstarter campaign was just the beginning for Wilson. Following the campaign, orders exploded on his website; the LunaTik was named iLounge’s 2011 Best Accessory of the Year, and Apple even began carrying the popular watch band in their own retail stores.
“There’s a really cool use some people have created all on their own without us.”
Then came the “Let’s Talk iPhone” event on October 4, 2011, just a day prior to Steve Jobs passing. Though that day was focused on the announcement of the new iPhone 4s, the keynote also included a refresh of the iPod product line. When Schiller came to the stage and spoke about the 6th generation Nano refresh, he also mentioned a “really cool” accessory for the Nano.
At 47:35 into the keynote, an excited Schiller with the slide deck queued to a picture of the TikTok watchband said, “There’s a really cool use some people have created all on their own without us. They created a market of accessories like watchbands to make this watch you can wear. It’s an iPod Nano; it has all your music in it and of course it tells time. So, with the update of the Nano we’ve added 16 new clock faces to make it fun for people who like to wear it like a watch.”
With the refresh, Apple added Nike+ and all-new watch faces to the iPod Nano. Though the added functionality didn’t magically transform the iPod Nano into an actual watch, Apple did create an even more compelling case to use the Nano as a “smart watch” with the added fitness tracker and custom watch faces. And that’s exactly what happened. The iPod Nano grew even more popular as a watch.
I believe it was shortly after the “Let’s Talk iPhone” event that Apple began development of the Apple Watch. Further validation came just six months later, when another incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, The Pebble, surpassed $10 million in funding. The people had spoken and though Apple had likely already begun development of a watch, the Pebble’s success undoubtedly cemented Apple’s efforts in building a watch. Apple’s new watch would not be the first to market, but in true Apple fashion, it would be the best. Later that year, Apple released a completely redesigned 7th generation iPod Nano. Perhaps, this was in preparation for a soon-to-be released watch.
I truly believe Scott Wilson’s idea to create a watchband case for the iPod Nano got people thinking about the possibility of a radically new watch experience. Though manufacturers initially rejected his ingenious idea, Wilson’s persistence to launch a campaign on Kickstarter gave the masses an opportunity to show manufacturers a product they really wanted — even Apple.
Of all the products Apple could have pursued, why a watch and why now? Do you think Scott Wilson’s watchband case ushered in the “smart watch” era? Is Apple now, under Tim Cook’s leadership, listening more to consumers? How do you think Apple will fare in this new fashion forward category?