Sep 26, 2023

Rahul Abhyankar: What job do you hire the Apple Watch for?

This article was published to LinkedIn by LaunchX mentor Rahul Abhyankar, Co-Founder of the Insititute of Product Leadership, on March 23, 2015.After the recent Apple keynote, a friend sent me these questions:

  • Is the watch now a permanent part of your purchase? Buy one every 2 years to pair with your iPhone?
  • What would have to happen for you to say – it is not worth spending $350 to have a watch on my wrist?
  • Why buy a $350 Apple when a $100-$200 Pebble gives you the same functionality?

The question behind the question is, what is the compelling reason to buy this product.


Clayton Christensen popularized the jobs-to-be-done framework as a way to look at customer motivations. The logic being that people rarely behave like the “average” customer in their category might. People have problems they need solved, and “hire” a product or service to get the “job” done. Companies that understand this increase their chances of delivering products or services that are tailored to what customers are already trying to do.So what job might we hire the Apple Watch to do for us? Leaving aside the fact that this product is called the Apple Watch, more broadly speaking, what job might we hire a “computer on our wrist” for?There are three main types of jobs:Functional – what does the product do and how well does it do that?Social – what will people think of me when they see me with this product?Emotional – how do I feel when I have this product?Functional jobs might be “tell time“, daily activity tracking such as “count my steps“, and so on. Given that most of these things can be done with an iPhone, one particular job that Apple thinks we might need to hire the watch for is “quickly access important information without having to pull out my iPhone“. This seems to stem from negative social perception from frequent use of the iPhone, e.g. what do people think of me when they see me pulling out my iPhone too many times to quickly access important information (granted that it is not always important information that people are using their iPhones for).For social and emotional benefits of owning a product, in the past, the Apple faithful have lined up outside Apple stores to be the first to get a new product in their hands. Will they continue to do so for the Watch? We don’t know. However, it is safe to assume that there are always a small percentage of people who enjoy being seen as the flag bearers. Early adopters of the Google Glass on the other hand faced a backlash and were referred to as “glassholes“, perceived as being creepy or rude, whether they displayed that behavior or not. The Apple Watch Edition seems to be conjuring up similar perceptions that the $10,000 watch is “for people with too much money and too little sense“. We’ll come to that later.So what job do we hire the Apple Watch to do? That depends and there is no one answer.


All of the attributes of a product can be summarized into two categories – FORM and FUNCTION. Form relates to a product’s appearance, the sum total of it’s looks, size, shape, curves, edges, colors, etc., effectively the design elements that affect its visual appeal and desirability. Function relates to what it does, the sum total of it’s features, capabilities, performance curve, etc., effectively things that affect its suitability for the job it is meant to do. The element of price is a determination of the product’s worth in some mix of function and form.Does form come before function, or does function come before form?In B2B products, the focus is squarely on function. Does this product keep our network safe? Does it route packets faster? Does it save us money? How much space and power, and therefore, money, can we save by moving physical machines in the datacenter to virtual machines in the cloud? Products that sit in racks and closets do not evoke emotion. Either they work well or fall short. Either they check most of the boxes in the RFP or they don’t.In B2C products, form becomes an important attribute. Appeal, association, and attachment are important emotional and subjective factors in the decision.If you like 5 parts function and 3 parts form, you don’t quite care how a product looks as much as what it does. You are unlikely to pay a premium for design. On the other hand, if you like 5 parts form and 3 parts function, you value a product’s design aesthetic, and may even potentially overlook some deficiencies in the product, e.g. the lack of copy/paste in the first iPhone. The former may go with the $100-$200 Pebble watch, while the latter may be willing to pay a premium for the $350 Apple Watch. This explains the surge in Pebble’s Kickstarter campaign once the Apple Watch was released. A lot of people made the decision that the Pebble was going to be just fine for them, and they were not willing to pay $350 for an Apple Watch.We can find buyers for every combination of form and function at the right price, but creating this breadth of offerings is a costly proposition for any company. The figure below may be over-simplifying things, however, it gives us a good way to see where the Apple Watch falls vis-a-vis other alternatives. Clearly there are people who pay many orders of magnitude for a Patek Phillipe doing a fraction of things the Apple Watch does, but they might never be seduced by the beauty of Apple design, because they have a different idea of what beautiful craftsmanship means.


For the Blackberry and smartphones before the iPhone, the killer app was email. These smartphones were mostly popular within the business user segment, people who needed access to email on the go. That was the primary job the smartphones were hired for. When the iPhone came, it was successful in challenging the notion of email being the killer app. It offered the entire Internet in your pocket. You could access the entire Internet on the go. In that sense, the iPhone expanded the market for the smartphone category by appealing to business and non-business users alike, by successfully shifting the job that smartphones were hired for.So what is the killer app for the Apple Watch? Certainly it isn't telling time.Given Apple’s focus on health and the prominence given to Christy Turlington Burns and her use of the Watch to prepare for the London Marathon, we can see what job Apple believes people should hire the Watch for – personal health and fitness tracking.If we compare the Apple Watch to fitness and activity trackers on the market, we get a different picture.All of a sudden, the Apple Watch Sport at $350 does not seem to demand an unreasonable premium over the $250 Fitbit Surge.It is really designed to be an activity tracker on steroids (ahem!) and looks and calls itself a watch only because of where it sits on your body. It seemed logical to design it as a watch and make it as desirable as possible, even as a luxury item, something that just a simple fitness tracker would not have the permission to become.Plus, if you wanted something to make you look like you aren’t one of those people who constantly look at their iPhones, now you have something to easily steal a few glances at. We don’t have social norms against that, just yet!Thoughts?

Follow us on:

Subscribe to our newsletter