Sales of the Apple Watch exceeded most prognosticators’ expectations, topping one million on the first day of pre-ordering . Why? The wristwatch business is an old one dominated by exquisite European watchmakers with a long history of unparalleled craftsmanship. Does digital technology trump craftsmanship after all? I claim the answer is “no.” Rather extreme personalization—regardless of technology—is what sells digital products like the Apple Watch. Furthermore, extreme personalization is no longer a luxury—it is a necessity. The Apple Watch represents another step toward the ultimate digital product—the device that knows you better than your psychoanalyst.
My wife and I dropped into the nearest Apple Store to satisfy our curiosity on preview day of the Watch. Neither one of us was serious about purchasing one until she came across the Mickey Mouse dial showing Mickey pointing to the minutes with one hand and the hours with another. When Mickey started tapping out the seconds with his foot, her attitude suddenly changed. Now she wants one. Her skepticism vanished when her emotional reaction kicked in.
Personalization and customization are two different things . Mass customization has been defined as the method of “effectively postponing the task of differentiating a product for a specific customer until the latest possible point in the supply network” . Wikipedia defines personalization as, “… using technology to accommodate the differences between individuals” . Both bland definitions miss the point. Functionality and options are not what sells today’s high-tech products. Emotion does.
A custom product offers the consumer an array of options. Automobile manufacturers are masters of customization. But options are not personal. Personalization in the digital age equates roughly with emotional attachment. My wife became emotionally attached to the Apple Watch after she experienced the Mickey Mouse’s tapping foot. The Watch was no longer functional—it became personal. Personalization is about making a connection between consumer and product, regardless of what the product does. Personalization turns cold steel and semiconductor circuits into a human.
We are in the early days of the IoT era—Internet of Things—a vast new world of products ready for consumers to slavishly scoop up and devour. Most will fail because they emphasize functionality rather than personality. Connecting my refrigerator to the Internet so it can tell me when to buy more milk is a deal-killer. I don’t want to be bossed around by a know-it‐all refrigerator. But, a refrigerator with a dancing mouse, British accent, or YouTube video showing me how to make a meal out of its decaying contents is another thing. The more my refrigerator knows about me, the more I want it. The more it entertains me, the more I become emotionally attached.
Future consumers may become interested in energy-saving IoT when energy bills skyrocket; cars drive themselves; houses talk to them; and e‐commerce sites shop for them, automatically. But, unless these smart devices incorporate a human emotion app, they will fail in the marketplace. Customization isn’t enough—personalization that evokes an emotional response is the future of IoT.
But my question is, “Are hi-tech companies becoming too personal?” An Internet bot can find social security numbers from Facebook pages; an analysis of click-through patterns via Google.com can determine what topics Google offers up; stigmergic patterns left behind by runners and cyclists tell Strava where we can be found; and your personal habits, desires, and thoughts are sold to advertisers on a microsecond-by-microsecond basis. This form of extreme personalization verges on invasion of privacy. When Disney finds out how much my wife loves the Mickey Mouse dial on the Apple Watch, what will Disney do—send her spam?
Future consumer devices will be sold on the basis of personality modules matched to a consumer’s likes and dislikes. Without an emotional attachment, a 100 GHz dishwasher with a 50 MHz Internet connection won’t convince me to switch out my dumb dishwasher. On the other hand, if my dishwasher is smarter than my honor student, can I trust it?
Van Grove, Jennifer. Apple Watch Sales Start Strong, Almost 1 Million Buyers Order on Day One. TheStreet.com. April 13, 2015. (Accessed May 1, 2015).
 Wikipedia contributors. Personalization. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (Accessed May 1, 2015).