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British Vogue on Friday posted full video footage of a recent interview that had editor Suzy Menkes talking with Apple design gurus Jony Ive and Marc Newson about Apple Watch and its place in the luxury market.
Amidst softball questions regarding Apple's design philosophy, the answers to which have been repeated ad nauseum by Ive and other Apple executives, Menkes tossed in a probing inquiry about Apple's potential play at the luxury market. With the Apple Watch campaign, the company is aggressively targeting well-heeled, fashion forward consumers, apparent with $17,000 Apple Watch Edition models and exclusive launch day availability at high-end boutiques.
The panel, held on Wednesday at the inaugural Conde Nast International Luxury Conference, saw Ive do most of the talking. Newson chimed in from time to time, but mostly ceded the floor to Apple's design chief.
Menkes asked how Ive would respond to brands that might view Apple Watch as an attempt on the "luxury world," an entrenched industry defined by expensive handbags, jewelry, clothing and other high-priced items.
"I think that we're on a path that's the same path that Apple really determined to be on in the 70s, which was to try and make technology approachable and relevant and personal," Ive said.
Menkes followed up with a more pointed question, "There's no doubt that you are now producing things that may be more desirable than traditional luxury to consumers, particularly the younger consumers. Don't you think that's true?"
"I don't know, we'll see. We'll see," Ive said, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd. He hedged somewhat, adding, "That was not our intent at all. Our intent has remained the same and is consistent which has been to try and take what is remarkable technology in terms of its capability and its utility, and to make it more and more personal."
Only a handful of tech companies have attempted to break into the exclusive luxury market — phone maker Vertu comes to mind — and even fewer have gained any sort of traction. Menkes later brought up a good point about inevitable hardware upgrades, a cyclical process easily understood and accepted by tech savvy consumers, but perhaps foreign to buyers in the market for a $20,000 Hermes handbag.
By its very nature, technology is constantly evolving, iterating, changing and improving. The Apple Watch, for example, will likely be obsolete in one or two years.
"We can only imagine, given how much we upgrade our phones, that this is going to need an upgrade at some stage," Menkes said. "It isn't a watch in the ones that you collect. You both collect watches and thee are watches that have stood the test of time. Is it the same with your devices? Is it going to be the same with your watch?"
Ive said he thinks Apple Watch will remain beautiful, but more importantly pointed out that a digital device is in a different class than mechanical contraptions. For Ive, a device whose capability is defined by software is an intriguing concept.
"The product that I buy next week — it will be more capable and will do things I cannot possibly imagine in just six months time," Ive said. "Now I think that's extraordinary. I don't know how we can compare these wonderful mechanical watches that we own and the product that has such a comprehensive functionality and capability that will grow and change beyond our imagining."
Of course, for that elite echelon of consumer in the market for handbags priced well beyond $20,000, spending a few ducats on a $17,000 Apple Watch falls in the category of impulse buy.