Is the Apple Watch Ultra Too Ultra?

Aron Solomon

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Apple Insider

I love to write about watches, in part because I co-founded a watch company and because I started collecting watches on my 13th birthday, a very long time ago. As someone who is only a fairly recent Apple Watch user, I was really intrigued when Apple released the new Apple Watch Ultra last week - “a watch that pushes boundaries,” according to Apple.

Apple is aiming the Ultra at athletes and adventurers, which I think is both logical and a massive misstep:

“Meet the most rugged and capable Apple Watch ever. With a robust titanium case, precision dual-frequency GPS, up to 36 hours of battery life1, the freedom of cellular2, and three specialized bands made for athletes and adventurers of all kinds.”

What Apple hopes to have done here is just build the best Apple watch ever, one that will finally get people who love traditional watches and have resisted an Apple watch for years to cross over to Team Apple. As far as its size goes, they’re on trend.

Watches have become bigger and bigger over the years, with this trend peaking around 2015 but not subsiding. Those of us who love large watches love them for a variety of reasons but, unlike in the Apple Watch Ultra ads, they’re for aesthetic rather than functional reasons.

From the Apple perspective, the Apple Watch was traditionally on the small side at 38mm. Then they made 42mm, 44mm, and 45mm models, but I still wouldn’t classify any of those watches as big.

Sharing my own Apple Watch use case, as someone who acquired an Apple watch only this year, it’s the Apple Watch form factor that has never been hefty enough for most of us who love large watches.

Previously rumored as the “Apple Watch Pro,” the Ultra has some great, solid specs. It’s a whopping 49mm case and 14.4mm thick, which is really thick. All of the rest of their specs are what you’d expect in a watch aimed at athletes except for a critical one - it’s only 100 meters water-resistant.

That simply isn’t enough to do extreme sports. Of the watches we have made at Mission, one sold-out model was 300 meters water resistant (we actually successfully machine tested it to 328 meters), and one other is 200 meters and is regularly used for diving among our buyers. They do what Apple hopes hundreds of thousands of their Ultra users do - take pics of them doing sports in the watch and send it along to be posted on social media.

Our watch audience is very similar to Apple’s. We have people who love to wear our watches for sports, even “extreme” ones, but they also wear them for “desk-diving,” which is another way of saying they wear a sports watch to sit at their computer. But, honestly, if you’re going to use a watch for anything even remotely extreme, 200 meters is the minimum jumping-in point.

For me, the other mistake that Apple is making here is an emotional and mental leap of faith. While I really enjoy my 44mm Apple Watch SE, I always think of it in the same way I do my iPhone. It’s basically a computer with different watch faces you can choose from. I just don’t think of it as a watch, as much as I do a computer of sorts.

What this means for me is that while Apple says it’s fine for me to shower with my watch, there’s no way I’m doing that, just as there’s no way I’d take my iPhone into the shower even if Apple said it could endure it. On top of that, I have a beautiful aftermarket “Off-White” Apple watch strap and you think I’m putting that in a soapy, hot shower?

I think that Apple still has some learning to do about who uses their watches and why they do. Every version of the Apple Watch, while magnificent in some ways, also feels forced and, on some level, illogical. Like making 44mm and 45mm watches that still feel and look thin and far less substantial than they should. This is something perfectly fine in a 38mm model, but when you enter the literal dimensions of big watches, you need to make them, well, big.

And that’s what Apple has always done with its products. They don’t only hit a sweet spot, they create these spots. I think back many years ago to law school and my portable Mac PowerBook. It was state-of-the-art and like nothing else out there. I could actually, in the 90s, go to a law school lecture hall with a computer and take notes. I remember my first iPhone, and how different it felt from the dozen BlackBerries I had before. These were trailblazing devices that made you forget everything else. They didn’t just change the game, they invented a new one.

My mind tells me that the Apple Watch Ultra is going to be a success and be remarkably well received by a certain segment of people looking for a new Apple Watch or that same segment of first-time buyers. But my gut tells me that the Ultra could be an ultra flop; either a solution that doesn’t solve a problem or a semi-bold effort that bothers everyone just enough to opt for a different model.

About Aron Solomon

A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and 24-7 Abogados. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.

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Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital, who has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world.

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