Apple today (April 7) revealed that it’s expanding its range of watch bands in partnership with luxury house Hermès. As of April 19, the Hermès bands will be available in four new colors—green, sapphire blue, white, and fire orange—at prices starting from $340. For the first time, the attractive bands in Hermès’ signature high-end leather will also be sold separately from the watch, allowing even those who didn’t buy the original $1,250 version of the Apple Watch to get a fancy Hermès strap.
As CEO Tim Cook noted at a press event on March 21, about a third of Apple Watch wearers “regularly” swap out their bands, and Apple has lately unveiled a slew of new bands in different materials, including nylon ones that cost just $49. It’s a smart business move, allowing Apple to sell more accessories for a product customers already own. Some are sophisticated, such as a $249 band in smooth leather with a polished buckle that echoes the shape of the watch face. Others are playful, including the $49 sport band that recalls your old Swatch.
But the profusion of watch band choices underscores a less upbeat point, which is that releases of new bands have become the most interesting developments related to the Apple Watch.
As a platform, the Apple Watch hasn’t advanced substantially since it first launched about a year ago. The company’s biggest news involving the watch recently was a price cut, making the entry level version $299 now. And many of those who look to Apple for constant innovation have declared the company’s recent performance a let down.
It’s a criticism that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made explicitly in a Reddit question-and-answer session a few weeks ago:
I worry a little bit about – I mean I love my Apple Watch, but – it’s taken us into a jewelry market where you’re going to buy a watch between $500 or $1100 based on how important you think you are as a person. The only difference is the band in all those watches. Twenty watches from $500 to $1100. The band’s the only difference? Well this isn’t the company that Apple was originally, or the company that really changed the world a lot.
Meanwhile, the design of the watch face itself has been called retrograde, too. Two weeks ago, Alice Rawsthorn, the design critic for the International New York Times, took to Instagram to vent her disappointment with Apple, saying she expected it (and Samsung, to be fair) to offer something “singular and futuristic” in their smart-watch design. Instead, she said, they just look like digital watches.
She took aim at Apple’s Hermès line as well, which includes an Hermès watch face as well as the band options. “Why would Apple use its R&D resources to reproduce an existing watch,” she asks, “instead of designing a thrillingly new one?”
At least as of now, a “thrillingly new” design isn’t forthcoming.