The real goal of the Apple Watch Ultra

Yesterday, Apple unveiled the new exciting Apple Watch Ultra. This is how it is described on the website:

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

One can find it quite surprising that Apple would bother to create a product aimed at such a small number of people. How many ultra-marathon runners or triathletes do you know? Watching the Ultra presentation, my first thought was that Apple was coming for Garmin, Suunto and other smartwatch brands like this, maybe Casio’s G-Shock, and, in a less obvious way, Swiss brands like Tissot. Apple must want these precious extra points of marketshare very much, despite already dominating the market. At least that’s what I thought at first, and I’m sure Apple won’t mind eventually eating other brands’ lunches.

The reality is that Apple strategists decided to create this watch for the same reasons they decided to double down on “Pro” Macs in recent years. With pro Macs, along with other features and products like Dolby Vision support, ProRAW, ProRes, XDR Display, Final Cut, and many more, Apple heavily targets creatives. Historically Apple always did, so we don’t really think about it. Therefore it is easy to forget that other segments of the population can be targeted with the same original goal: influence and desire.

Here’s to the crazy ones

What do these “athletes and adventurers” have in common? Followers, a big social media impact, influence. They might not be celebrities in the sense that everyone in the world knows them, but they inspire their fans, they are role models, people that others want to imitate. And guess what? If these people pick an Apple Watch Ultra, they have to use an iPhone too. And if they are in the Apple ecosystem, the better the chances members of their community end up in it too.

I don’t think Apple wants to be the most popular smartwatch brand among “adventurers” or wants to compete with Garmin directly (it has to be a small market overall: Garmin’s fitness division revenue in 2021 was only $1,534 million, which is pretty much pocket change for Apple). Apple wouldn’t mind, and I am pretty sure it is one of the company’s goals. What Apple wants first is to attract a very desirable segment of the population into the Apple ecosystem because Apple knows these people are inspiring, just like creatives.

It can be described, I think, as product placement. But instead of spending money to pay companies or individuals to have a device featured in a movie or on Instagram, Apple spends money creating the product that people making these movies and social media posts will organically buy.

This is why I think it is wise to expect Apple to spend a lot of money on gaming in the coming years: pretty sure video games “streamers” are next on the list. I also like to think that without Instagram (and other platforms), this watch probably never would have been made.