Nov 3, 2014 · 3 minutes

Apple enthusiasts won't be able to strap the company's first smartwatch onto their wrists until next spring, according to 9to5Mac. The report is based on the transcript of a video in which the company's retail head told employees about the watch's debut. That's later than expected, and it might help explain why Apple hasn't told potential customers when the device will be available. It also highlights the question at the core of the Apple Watch: What makes it worth waiting for?

Tech companies are excited about wearables. That much is obvious, given the sheer number of established companies (Microsoft, Google) and startups (Pebble, Fitbit) trying to make sure it's their hunk of Internet-connected plastic on consumers' wrists instead of the competition's. But consumers aren't quite sold on the category for a variety of reasons, including privacy concerns and the unclear benefits of using a smartwatch. The industry's excitement about wearables has an inverse relationship to consumers' excitement about the same products, or so it would seem.

I wrote about the effect this phenomenon might have on the wearables market last week, after it was revealed that everyone from Microsoft and Facebook to Google and Nintendo is working on some kind of health product, many of which take the form of smartwatches or fitness trackers. In the post, I argued that these companies' rush to make wearables has turned the devices into commodities, not unlike television sets:

The last thing these companies want is to operate in a market similar to the one for television sets. Prices of new TVs have fallen since at least 2011, when the New York Times reported on the television bubble’s pop, and have continued to haunt television manufacturers ever since.

Most product categories become commodities eventually. The difference this time is that all these companies are contributing to the commodification of health products before the market really has a chance to prove that it’s worth all this commotion. Sometimes a rising tide raises all ships; other times it just drowns everyone aboard them and sends them to Davy Jones’ locker. Apple might be the sole exception to this phenomenon. (It's also probably the only company that could excite consumers about television sets again, but that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon.) Its products are exciting in ways that others aren't -- or at least they're seen as being more exciting than their competition, even if they lag behind in some way or another.

Much of that perception relies on the fact that Apple's a brand as much as it's a manufacturer. People don't purchase the company's products just because they're often good; they purchase them because they have the Apple logo somewhere on their frames. That will probably prove even more important in the wearables market, which has to convince consumers that products like this aren't just technologically interesting, but also fashionable enough to wear all the time.

Apple is uniquely suited to tackle both problems at once. As I wrote when the Apple Watch appeared on the cover of Vogue's China edition not long after it was first revealed to the world:

Apple isn’t a technology company trying to masquerade as a fashion company. Instead, it’s focused on designing products that make statements in addition to being solid devices. And those efforts have allowed it to enter the fashion world in a way that its competitors haven’t. Apple has always been a jewelry maker insofar as its products are viewed as status symbols and admired for their form as much as their function; now it just so happens to have made a device that is meant to be worn as a piece of jewelry in addition to being seen as one. It’s gone vogue.
Will all that be enough to make the Apple Watch worth waiting for? Or, better yet, will it give people a reason to "wait" for a wearable product instead of simply not purchasing one? Since both technology and fashion are all about the brand -- with tech being a little less so -- I think that the answer is yes. People might not like wearables, but it's unlikely something like the Apple Watch hasn't already captured their attention. Such are the benefits of having a brand.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]