The tech world has been waiting in anticipation the last few weeks to find out what Apple’s latest offerings will be. While everyone expected a new iPhone model (and got two actually – the iPhone 6 and a larger screen version, the iPhone 6 Plus) and the next version of the iOS operating system (iOS 8), the key question was whether the long-rumored iWatch would be presented at the fall product announcement event on 9/9.
Apple did announce their new Watch offering at the event, and found ways to differentiate their offering through providing various editions for specific markets/purposes, and providing ways to use watch functionality beyond telling time without a phone connection, such as heartrate monitoring and ability to respond to gestures, etc. Also, the Apple Watch will leverage Apple’s new Apple Pay service to allow wearers to pay for items at such retailers as Whole Foods and Macy’s.
However, the device is not yet available (probably shipping early next year) and will be at a price point higher than competing devices – starting at $349. Apple device users expect a premium price, but may be confused by the three “editions” of the watch: a standard smartwatch (“Apple Watch”), a rugged sport version (“Apple Watch Sport”) and a fancier fashion-focused edition (“Apple Watch Edition”). Also, by not shipping until next year, Apple may lose significant ground to other smartwatch offerings – the Pebble, which has been generally available for over a year, Samsung’s many offerings and new Android-wear devices such as the Moto 360 which became available late last week and sold out in a few hours.
So what will the impact be on insurers? In my report on wearables, I mentioned that smartwatches can be used for customer engagement and collecting information about the wearer’s activity, useful for determining their level of fitness and general health. Apple’s Watch offerings will fuel the growing consumer interest in wearables, leading to a critical mass of users who will demand they are supported by all businesses they work for and purchase from, including insurers. Wearables are becoming another important communication and engagement channel for insurers, and need to be considered in digital and customer experience strategies as well as considered in IT application and architecture roadmaps. As current systems struggle to support mobile channels, future systems should be planned with wearables taken into consideration.
By the way, after Apple’s announcement I asked around to various demographic groups at the Insurance CIO Summit, which I am attending this week in Atlanta. Few said they would be interested in buying the Apple Watch – some were not yet interested in wearables, others felt there were other offerings that were available that they would consider and others took more of a “wait and see” approach. One interesting response was from a younger Gen-Xer who continues to wear a fashion watch, and said she would not be interested in the Apple Watch because she expected it not to look as fashionable (for instance, she found my Pebble “unattractive”). Clearly people choose what they wear on their wrists for many purposes, so Apple’s approach of multiple offerings may prove to be a good strategy. However, they will need to provide relevant apps and educate consumers on why their smartwatch provides capabilities that wearers can’t live without. (Is my Pebble watch really that unattractive? Hmm.)