Speculation is heating up today in the wake of Apple’s announcement that it’s developing a smart-wristwatch. Well, actually, Apple didn’t so much as announce it, as the media – The New York Times included – announced it for them, “according to people familiar with the company’s explorations.”
Absurdity of what this type of hype-driven-brand means for Apple long-term aside (see my posting from Sept 27, 2012), the specifics of what is being developed are the interesting part. I’m not necessarily ready to join Apple fans looking to trade in their retro Casio calculator watches, but it reflects something pretty amazing in terms of how we relate to technology, and therefore, technology brands.
Not so long ago (for me at least), before we had touch screens, before we had laptops with 8-hour batteries, before we had cars with built in navigation/infotainment centers, there were the things we used in everyday life (cars, soap, food, clothes) and there was technology. We had TVs with remotes we couldn’t use, VCRs we couldn’t set, computers that could run programs and maybe even get on AOL.
Today, I can ask my phone how to get somewhere and it tells me. I can watch more than a lifetime’s worth of video online. I can set my thermostat using an app on my iPad. More importantly, my kids can talk with my parents who live 2,444 miles away—not just talk on the phone with them, but look them in the eye, show them their painting and hang out.
Just as we can’t imagine life without electric lights and indoor plumbing, technology, or, more specifically, the results of technology are things we effectively take for granted. Why? Because technology no longer requires us to conform to it in the ways we have in the past. We’ve reached the point where it doesn’t just let us do stuff; it helps us do everything.
The role of tech brands is changing. Apple is as much a consumer brand as Nike is a tech brand and vice versa. Humana uses technology to keep people healthy. IBM uses people to make businesses healthy. Whether we look at American Airlines or Amazon.com, Ford or Facebook, Zara or Zappos, we will find technology playing as much a role in how we engage with, experience and benefit from the brands that surround us.
Nirm Shanbhag is the Managing Director of Interbrand San Francisco.