Failing upward: The Apple Watch story (so far)

Based on Jony Ive's promotion, you probably wouldn't wish Apple Watch's success on your worst enemy

Failing upward: The Apple Watch story (so far)

Ding dong, the watch is dead, the Apple Watch is dead.

As my most detail-conscious readers are aware, I occasionally comment on my rapidly, blindingly, rocket-propelled advancing age. For the most part, it grants me a unique combination of omniscience and near-sociopathic levels of disregard for facts. But it can be a weakness, usually when my time-tested snarkiness causes me to pan a new gadget/invention/fluffdongle that's excited much of the rest of the (younger) world. That’s how it is with the Apple Watch.

I believe I’ve been fairly clear that I regard Apple’s digi-watch as a global socioeconomic failure on a par with TNT canceling "Franklin & Bash" (or introducing "Franklin & Bash," I forget). But what if I was talking like an old fart because my pickled brain couldn’t comprehend the brilliance and beauty that’s obvious to people who haven't yet had to consider shaving their ears? The question bothered me -- until yesterday when Apple announced that Jony Ive had been promoted from Senior VP, Design and Annoying Hipster Names to Chief Design Officer.

Read between the lines

In case you can’t read between the backstabbing corporate lines, that’s not really a promotion. I know because for several blurry weeks in the '80s, I was actually on-staff and on-site at InfoWorld with a desk, a cube, and what I hope was an electronic ID token implanted under my left earlobe. The crew loved my stuff, but after an email leaked in which I implied that the editor’s wife’s Christmas cookies tasted like freshly braised tennis balls, I was suddenly promoted to Senior Editorial Director of Fermented Cynicism Emeritus. They told me I’d be giving up bureaucratic duties to focus on “more important, big-picture, off-site” journalism, but then yanked the token from my brain with a spring wrench and heaved me out the door. I haven’t been invited back to the office since.

It’s the same with Ive. According to Apple’s press release, his new job will allow him to “travel more,” oversee design at Apple’s retail stores, and spend extra time in the United Kingdom tending to the royal corgis. That’s obvious code for Ive losing a turf war to Tim Cook and getting dropkicked onto a private jet headed straight to the doghouse.

Remember the Apple Watch watch?

None of this would make sense if the Apple Watch were as big a success as the company wants us to believe. True, only a few weeks ago the crazy Brit was riding the Apple Watch anticipation PR train to fame and media glory with a verve and gusto rarely seen outside the Kardashian compound. Fawning media snippets, blog posts, and sound bites spewed onto the Web so fast that for a day or two more people knew about Ive than the dang watch. It culminated in a 17-page interview in the New Yorker that was so obsequious, it almost moved me to toss a kitten into a ceiling fan to introduce some drama. Gathering that many headlines in so short a time is almost guaranteed to threaten your boss, especially if most of them hint you should be running Apple instead of him.

But Tim Cook is, well, Tim Cook, and Jony Ive may wear those made-for-billionaires crewnecks and shave his head exactly like they teach entrepreneurs to do at the London School of Silicon Valley Economics, but he still has a long way to go before he gives Timmy the shakes. No, this is a confirmation of my crusty condemnation. The Apple Watch is a digital dud, and Tim thinks he needs steadier hands at the design wheel, so he’s kicking Ive upstairs for a while -- which probably isn’t quite fair.

Sure, thanks to Ive’s design, the Apple Watch looks and feels as different from any other watch as a regulation NFL football looks and feels from a Tom Brady's “improved” sports orb. And designing a watch-sized app platform while leaving actual killer-app innovation to third-party software partners instead of coming up with your own creation is a strategy that didn’t work out so well for Microsoft and Windows RT. But can you really pin all that on one guy? I guess you can if that guy spends two months getting his picture in every mag and Web rag outside of Ramadi.

But don’t despair, Jony -- even I came back from tennis ball doom. As soon as someone invents an Apple Watch app that doesn’t make us want to eat glass, you’ll be back at work.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards 2023. Now open for entries!