Apple Watch Further Democratizes Consumer Electronics

A thought occurred to me as the rumors are starting to float around about Apple’s initial shipment order of over 5 million Watches, and the alleged split between the Sport, Watch, and Edition models: it doesn’t matter how much you could possibly fork over for an Apple Watch Edition with 18-karat gold casing, you’ll still have essentially and technologically the same actual Watch that someone getting a Sport edition has.

With Macs or PCs, more money can get you a decidedly more powerful computer. With the iPod, Apple entered (and subsequently shaped for the next decade) a consumer electronics space that democratized technology a lot more, where a high-end model of a product generally only offered only more storage capacity.

The iPhone and smartphones since then took that further, because while the original iPhone started at $499 with 2 year contract, now you can get a very capable smartphone for free (with contract). At its debut, the iPhone was very much a luxury good, despite appealing tremendously to the masses. Today, smartphones outsell “dumb” phones in the global market of 1.8 billion phones a year.

Apple Watch will debut with a price range we don’t quite know yet, but the Sport model starts at $349, and current rumors suggest the Edition model may cost upwards of $4000. Nothing out of the ordinary for a high-end watch, but quite uncommon for such consumer electronics. More interestingly, it’s uncommonly high for something that offers no technical superiority of the electronics themselves (although there remain many details Apple has not yet revealed about the Watches, so that could change). With the Watch Edition, you’re paying for better and more luxurious materials used for everything but the Watch technology itself.

The current consumer electronics space for mainstream, mass-market devices is starting to offer increasingly little functional technology available only to high-end buyers. A new crop of high-end, luxury—or at least expensive—consumer electronics has already started to rear its face, such as the (possibly-defunct) Google Glass, Oculus VR, and Microsoft Hololens. But these are not yet products designed for the mainstream, and their pricing reflects that. The same is true with robotics, 3D printers and that entire category of manufacturing/hardware electronics.

Whether Apple Watch catches on with the mainstream remains a big question, but whether Apple has designed it for a diverse and large audience is not. It’s designed for everyone, and is unusually egalitarian in its functional technology.