Last Minute Apple Watch Speculation

In prep for today’s Apple event, I’m cleaning house because I’m having company over to watch it. It’s like it’s a sportsball tournament, and we’re going to scream at the TV together.

This is fun because it’s not every day that Apple will introduce their watch. I think they still have lots to show us. I think they’ll show off about a dozen new features of the product, and we’ll see demos from third party developers making more use of it as an extension of their iPhone apps.

And, hopefully, they’ll settle the watch pricing debates.

But let’s not forget that this is not a watch event, per se. This is an Apple event, where usually they introduce and review many of their starring products. If they have the time, they’ll probably talk about the new Photos app for Mac and iCloud. I expect them to release the public version this afternoon, or at the latest by the end of March.

Maybe they’ll make a direct connection between the watch’s photo features and the Photos app, since they’ve hardly said anything about the potential on that front. I’m speculating that the watch’s Camera app will work as a remote and external camera viewfinder, based on this moment in the Apple Watch product video:

Back to the pricing for a moment, I’m going to make my final calls. It’s an interesting topic because Apple isn’t in the habit of selling luxury goods. Tech geeks assume the watches will be boringly inexpensive, like the iPods and iPads. 1 On the other hand, the fashion-minded are aware that other watches (particularly gold ones) sell for much more than $1,000.

Undoubtedly, the gold models will cost a few thousand dollars or more. It’s the steel Apple Watch models that are more puzzling to me. Apple wants you to perceive that the value of the 38mm and 42mm watch sizes are different from each other. In like manner, they make it clear that the materials for the steel watches are more valuable than the aluminum models. And let’s not overlook the complex processes by which the wrist bands are manufactured, some parts by hand, that take as much as nine hours to fabricate with precision. 2

The other day, I predicted that the starting price for a steel watch would be $449 for the 38mm and $499 for the 42mm, but now I’m not so sure. The materials are far superior to the Watch Sport model’s, and the premium craftsmanship they add with the wrist bands will probably add more value to them as a luxurious personal statement for the wearer. Concerning the prices, here’s what I said previously:

Seem too low? Remember that a good number of customers with the steel watch will be attracted to multiple wrist bands. I can already see myself purchasing whatever band that comes with the watch, by default, and getting another one or two within the first year. The wristbands are swappable for different occasions. And my sense of style will change over time. Since this is the case…and Apple knows it, they’ll make a lot of money from customers — a large percentage of them — that want multiple wristbands.

I still think that Apple will sell wrist bands separately from the watches, but what I hadn’t noticed before was that they describe the three tiers of watch products as ‘collections’ with specific models in each collection. Those models in each collection have criteria, like the size of the watch, the color of the metal finish, and the wrist band it comes with.

By Apple’s criteria, there are 18 steel watches. Each of them will most likely vary in price, because of the varying specs. I think a pricing model akin to John Gruber’s is most likely:

  • Apple Watch, steel, Sport Band: $649/699
  • Apple Watch, steel, Classic Buckle: $799/849
  • Apple Watch, steel, Milanese Loop: $949/999
  • Apple Watch, steel, Modern Buckle (38mm only): $1199
  • Apple Watch, steel, Leather Loop (42mm only): $1299
  • Apple Watch, steel, Link Bracelet: $1499/1599
  • Apple Watch, space black steel, Link Bracelet: $1899/1999

The next time you visit the jewelry store, look at the prices of other watches. They vary wildly based on size, design, materials, and features. Apple has differentiated their watch features with the differences in their wrist bands. And they have six sizes in six metal variations.

As to avoid headaches from thinking about the specific pricing for each, I can mostly agree with John. I’ll add that I expect the low-end steel Apple Watch to have a starting price that’s at least $100 more than the high-end of the Apple Watch Sport collection.

But we’ll know for sure in a few hours. And I’m sure there will be lots more to think about after the event. It’s starts at 1 PM ET. You will be able to watch a live stream at Apple’s site, and on an Apple TV.

  1. Cheap when compared to lots of the early speculated prices. People thought the iPad price would start around $1,000. Today, the high-end iPads are under $900.

  2. All of the interesting technical details concerning the craftsmanship of the wrist bands are available here on Apple’s site.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.