Why Apple Can't Afford to Forget About Dre

Jacob Harper  |

Tech as an accessory can be a tricky sell. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come. For every iPhone there’s a Google Glass. That is, when you’re showing people products they won’t "need until they see it," you might discover they will see it – and then just decide they don’t need it.

The holy grail of “just wait’ll they get a hold of this!” in smart tech is the vaunted wearable tech. Google made the first stab at wearables with Google Glass, and while it’s far from dead in the water reception has been tepid to virulent. Sorry, Google (GOOG) . They can’t all be winners.

The next logical choice in wearables, and the path of Samsung and Apple Inc. (AAPL) has been the smartwatch. This makes sense. Smartwatches offer a bit of Bond-esque fantasy fulfillment, so you’re not dealing with a completely unfamiliar product. Watches as well are a little less gauche than, say, Google Glass, in that they’re (at least theoretically) subtle and inconspicuous, an accessory without being a full-on fashion statement.   

That’s where Google Glass has stumbled. It’s tech, to be sure, but it’s also a piece of fashion. And in that arena, it has failed to catch on. Smartwatch makers would do well to heed this cautionary tale, and look to manufacture a product that is functional, but also flies as fashionable. And not just in in Silicon Valley and Gangnam, but also beyond.

Shake Your Little Smartwatch on the Catwalk

With Apple’s hire of the Burberry CEO last fall, it appeared Cupertino-based company was preparing to move aggressively into smart fashion. An iWatch, as the product has been christened by the public, would be the slam-dunk out-there product Apple has been clamoring for since the death of Steve Jobs, and with him, the perspective that Apple could be a truly innovative, exciting powerhouse, and not just a grazing cash cow.  

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But Apple looks to be second in the smartwatch game, as chief rival Samsung just released details on their own upcoming smartwatch.  Execs for the company are already in talks with major telecoms in Asia about the forthcoming smartwatch, and are expected to unveil the product in either June or July. Apple traditionally does not release new products until their annual event at their Cupertino headquarters in September.

The Samsung watch’s main allure is that it can operate independently of a smartphone, while preserving all the advantages. That is, users will be able to make calls, access the web, or send text messages, just like a standard smartphone. Except of course, this one’s also a fashion statement.

Meet the New Tech, Same as the Old Tech

Assuming Apple is indeed releasing an iWatch in September, they’re going to look a lot like they’re following Samsung’s lead. Well, they already look like that a bit, considering rumors about the inevitable iPhone 6’s indicate a main selling point is that it will have a much larger screen; that is, the iPhone will now more closely resemble a Samsung Galaxy phone.

Whether it comes from Samsung, Apple, or some dark horse (unlikely), getting customers on board with a smarty wristwatch will take a bit more than giving them a chance to live out their 007 fantasies. A smart watch will probably have to offer features that a smart phone cannot.

For the time being, it doesn’t appear the Samsung phone does. The supposed Apple phone’s features… well, that’s all speculation now, but analysts seem to think the answer to that question is “we’d sure be surprised if it did.”

Don’t Forget About Dre

The easier way to sell consumers on smartwatches is to push them as fashionable. Think the Beats by Dre line, wherein Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine convinced a world to shell out hundreds apiece for medium-good headphones. Headphones, it should be noted, that had an Apple-esque clean, hip design; headphones that offered little new in terms of features but lots more in terms of looks. Little wonder Apple would be interested in acquiring such a brand, which the cash-rich tech behemoth did for a cool $3.2 billion.    

With both Samsung or Apple, if they’re not offering anything new, they’ve got to offer something different. Different that is, in that it’s got to be cool. Smartwatches are fashion, and if Apple or Samsung want their smartwatches to sell, they need to pay attention less to Google Glass, and more to Dr. Dre.

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