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Golden Apple: Thoughts on potential Apple Watch prices

Michael Simon | March 9, 2015
I can't remember a time in Apple's history when I was this anxious about a slide. On Monday morning, Tim Cook will take the stage and fill in all of the blanks he left during September's Apple Watch demo; we'll learn about apps and battery life and bands, and then sometime toward the end of his presentation, he'll click his remote and the room will go silent.

If anything, Apple's "tax" is on new technology. More than any other consumer company, Apple pushes the limits of technology and design, and there's usually a hefty price for those early adopters who want to live out on that bleeding edge.

There's no better example of this than the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Back in 1997, a young designer named Jony Ive conceived the ultimate luxury PC, a stunning all-in-one with a 12-inch display flanked by a pair of skinny Bose speakers, a removable trackpad and a circular subwoofer that looked as good on your desk as it did under it. The cost of all that luxury: $7,500.

At the time, there was nothing that even resembled the TAM, but underneath its sleek enclosure, it was essentially a dressed-up Power Mac with a TV tuner and a upgraded sound system. It was one of the few products in Apple's history that shamelessly placed form before function. It was Ive gone wild, pure hubris by a company that was nearly bankrupt, and it predictably flopped.

Affordable luxury

Now, nearly 20 years, we have the Apple Watch. In it's own way it's just as stunning as the TAM, and both are design marvels, defying expectations and reimagining the conventions of what's possible. It might seem like I'm comparing apples and oranges here, but listening to Jony Ive talk about the TAM two decades ago sounds awfully familiar:

"One of the things that's really striking about the product are the colors that we've used, the materials and the finishes. ... We wanted to design a product that would fit into personal environments much better than traditional solutions have done."

There may be other smartwatches on the market, but Apple Watch is a singular standout among its peers. The retina screen. The inductive charging. The Digital Crown. The colors. The materials. The finishes. But this time around, the "tax" doesn't apply to all early adopters. Come launch day you'll be able to walk into an Apple Store and walk out with an Apple Watch for a relatively reasonable $349.

It's the materials, not the technology that will cost you. John Gruber piqued our curiosities a few weeks ago when he surmised that there will be five tiers of Apple Watch pricing. He estimates the link bracelet will cost well in excess of $1,000, and a healthy premium will be attached to each of the various clasps and colors, topping off at an eye-popping $20,000 for an edition with as as-yet-unannounced solid-gold Link Bracelet.

The would certainly make it the most expensive Apple product in its catalogue — a fully maxed out Mac Pro with every display and accessory available will only set you back $14,889.98 — and it would cost more than a Hyundai Elantra, though at least you'd be able to use your Apple Watch Edition to unlock it. Few people would be able to afford one, and it would draw a distinct line in the sand between the haves from the have-nots, much like Rolex and Bvlgari do.


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