Jay Talking: The confusing Apple Watch 'experience'

-- ST ILLUSTARTION: ADAM LEE
-- ST ILLUSTARTION: ADAM LEE

Why should I pay more for an Apple Watch Edition when it does not have a butler to deliver my messages?

It is difficult to describe in mere words the experience of first strapping an Apple Watch onto your wrist, but I'm going to try anyway.

It's nice.

Okay, I'm lying. It's better than nice. It's awesome. In fact, I had a rush of conflicting emotions when I had my first real-world encounter with the hallowed fruity timepiece at an Apple Store last week.

As I stood there, I asked myself: What was this that I was feeling deep within the bowels of my heart?

Was it love or was it that three- day-old fried rice I had for lunch? Was it lust or was it more a sense of yearning - a yearning for someone I know to see me with the watch on my wrist so he or she could lust too, but lust from afar in a fit of jealousy?

I didn't know. I was confused. All I knew was that I had to have one and I had to have one immediately.

"We don't sell the watch here. You have to buy it online," said the Apple Store guy helping me. "In the store, we let customers come in and experience the watch."

I heard that word a lot over the hour or so I spent fondling the Apple Watch - "experience".

Very rarely was I allowed to "try" or even "use" the watch.

I had to "experience" its luxury, "experience" its haptic feedback and "experience" its cute animated Mickey Mouse watch face, so much so that by the time I had to hand over the watch, I found myself using the same lingo.

Me: "That was quite an experience."

Salesman: "You should also make an appointment to experience the Apple Watch Edition watch, even if you don't intend to buy one. It's a very different experience."

Me: "Is the experience very different?"

Salesman: "Yes, definitely. The Apple Watch Edition is much heavier." (I swear I am not making this up.)

For the uninitiated, let me explain that there are 22 versions of the Apple Watch. These are divided into three main confusingly named editions - the Apple Watch Sport (aka the cheapest version), the Apple Watch (aka the type most people will buy) and the Apple Watch Edition (aka the douchebag version). In each edition, there are two sizes and a multitude of different types of straps and colours.

I guess this is one reason they don't let you buy the watch in a store. They wanted to cut out the confusion.

Salesman: "When you said you want the Apple Watch, did you mean you want the watch edition or just the watch?"

Buyer: "What's the difference again?"

Salesman: "The watch edition watch is more expensive than the watch watch. Also, the watch edition experience is heavier."

To be clear, though they range in price from US$349 (S$464) to US$17,000, there isn't any difference in terms of the technology in the different watches.

Every single one works in the same way. The watch functions as an extension of your iPhone.

All the notifications you get on your iPhone are available on the Apple Watch, just that it is on a smaller screen.

This marks a quantum leap, not just in tech terms, but also in terms of social graces. Your dinner buddies will no longer rudely ignore you by staring into their phones since they can now rudely ignore you by pretending to check the time.

The watch also enables you to send your heartbeat to a friend or draw a small picture for him or her.

I showed this amazing feature to my wife, who remarked with awe: "Why would anyone want to do that?"

She doesn't understand technology. I asked her what feature she thought would be useful for a smartwatch and she replied non-ironically: "It should tell the time."

Of course, while all the watches have the same tech functions, they do perform somewhat different social functions. And it is this that causes the price differential.

The Watch Sport and the plain vanilla Apple Watch perform the critical function of telling everyone that the wearer has an Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch Edition, on the other hand, performs the critical function of telling everyone that the wearer has at least US$10,000 in disposable income and is therefore better than you.

And it is on this score that I think the watch still has some kinks to work out. At the end of my time with the Apple Watches, I found myself a little underwhelmed by the more expensive ones.

It's often hard to notice whether someone is wearing the more expensive watch or the cheaper one unless someone has committed the entire menu of options to memory. And even if you do, there are cheats. Some resourceful people have already uploaded videos to YouTube of them spray-painting a cheaper watch gold so as to deceive bystanders.

In a sense, this is the trouble with trying to sell a mid-market product as a luxury product at the same time. People who buy a Hermes Birkin handbag never have to worry about somebody mistaking it for the cheaper mid-market Hermes Birkin Sport edition.

So I have some suggestions of how Apple can add some premium features to the Apple Watch Edition to better differentiate it as a luxury product.

1. Premium notifications: For the cheaper models, the watch can continue to gently buzz and light up whenever the wearer gets an e-mail or text message. If you are a high-end consumer, however, your watch will not do any low-class buzzing. Instead, a butler will walk over, touch you discreetly on the wrist and whisper the message into your ear - ostentatious but also classy.

2. Premium look: Rather than a square screen with Mickey Mouse or butterflies on it, the high-end watch face should be round and studded with diamonds. It should be nearly indistinguishable from a Rolex. I know you are thinking, in that case, why not just buy a Rolex?

Well, the experience of the Apple Watch Edition will be different. It will be heavier.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg