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Apple Watch will offer payment at the flick of a wrist

How many watches are bought as coming-of-age presents these days?

I wondered this as I read some of the acres of coverage about the launch of the Apple Watch in California on Tuesday. It used to be something of a ritual that when a landmark birthday was reached (21 in those days, rather than 18) parents would buy their child their first “proper” watch.

Today few teenagers wear a wristwatch. Their mobile phones are their timepieces, so it will be interesting to see how Apple goes about marketing a product that offers as its primary function something that is already provided elsewhere.

Will Apple pitch its Watch as a high-tech fashion accessory or an essential, if compact, mobile device that is worn on the wrist? Between now and spring 2015, when the Apple Watch goes on sale, it could do both, of course. A higher-than-usual percentage of fashion journos and bloggers were invited to the lavish event at Apple’s Cupertino campus for Tuesday night’s extravaganza. We must recognise the influence of Angela Ahrendts in this development. The ex-Burberry boss is now in charge of Apple’s retail stores and she has long been a proponent of marrying technology with fashion.

Unusually for Apple, the Watch allows some consumer customisation – two dial sizes (38mm and 42mm), different dial faces achieved through umpteen screensavers, strap choices including rubber, leather and steel, and six metallic finishes for the case. In theory, it could appeal to the same demographic that made Swatch, G-Shock, ToyWatch and Michael Kors (to name but four) a wristwatch for the fashion-conscious, but with an entry-level price for the Watch Sport version expected to be around $349 (about £215 at today’s exchange rate, but surely it will be more in the UK) this is not going to be an impulse purchase. More options and a better finish will be included in the mid-tier Apple Watch (price not yet set). The top level is the Apple Watch Edition, a 14kt gold customised range, which is likely to cost four figures.

Given what game-changers the iPod (2001), the iPhone (2007) and the iPad (2010) have been in their respective sectors, it would be rash to bet against the Apple Watch (note, not the iWatch) making a splash in the timepiece market, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen, worn and tried one. Controlling the actions through the digital crown (or winder) sounds intriguing, but how easy or robust that turns out to be will be the acid test. Having to recharge the watch is also a bind.

What does sound very desirable – and possibly the most significant development for fashion retailing – is the Apple Watch’s facility of acting as a payment device (incorporating NFC or near-field communication). Having your debit and credit card details stored in your wristwatch will negate the need for purses or wallets. I am a big fan of contactless payment – typing a four-digit PIN is so tedious.

Apple has introduced its payments service under the banner of Apple Pay and one could imagine that the functionality could be built into next generation of existing devices. It would be nice to go shopping with nothing but an iPhone to settle the bill. But retailers will need to have complementary contactless readers and that may take time to develop.

But, when available, that convenient payment factor may be one of the major attractions for the younger consumer who does not wear a wristwatch. But with prices probably running from £250 and beyond, it is still likely to be paid for by the Bank of Mum & Dad.

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