Apple exec admit: Watch designed to stop you from ditching iPhone

We wrote last year about Apple cancelling its “Project Fennel” initiative. It was intended to make the Apple Watch compatible with Android devices. While Apple cites technical reasons, the DOJ lawsuit suggests the decision to shelve the project was strategic, aimed at protecting the iPhone-centric ecosystem and boosting sales.

Apple Watch’s Android incompatibility exposed as a strategic move

A number of years in the works, Apple’s ambitious “Project Fennel” project aimed at bringing the world of Apple Watch to billions of Android users. For a company known for its closely-knit ecosystem, this was seen a bold change in direction.

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However, as “Project Fennel” neared completion, Apple’s overarching strategy came into play. Newly revealed information from an ongoing antitrust lawsuit suggests the motivation behind the project’s cancellation may not have been purely technical. Apple claims to have worked for three years on Android compatibility, but abandoned the effort due to unspecified “technical limitations”. The Department of Justice lawsuit, however, cites internal company communications suggesting Apple intentionally chose not to release Android compatibility to protect its ecosystem and boost iPhone sales.

As reported by 9to5 Mac, leaked emails in the DOJ lawsuit reveal Apple’s Vice President of Product Marketing admitting the Apple Watch discourages iPhone users from switching to Android, and that Android compatibility would weaken iPhone’s unique selling proposition.

The rationale for the decision

While completing “Project Fennel” would have undoubtedly broadened Apple’s potential market base, allowing it to tap into billions of Android users, the move carried significant risks. The immediate revenue from Apple Watch sales to this demographic is obvious, but there are other more nuanced economic and strategic considerations.

Apple may have faced increased production and supply chain demands, as well as the need for more diverse marketing strategies in order to appeal to the Android audience. The risk of eroding Apple’s exclusivity and potentially reducing iPhone sales may have outweighed any sales gains.

Furthermore, Apple puts lots of focus on creating a seamless user experience. At least it tries. It is for this reason that the flagship wearable is regarded as the best smartwatch on the market. Integrating it with Android would present both software and hardware challenges.

On the software side, it would have been difficult to ensure the smooth operation of Apple-specific features within the diverse Android ecosystem, with its plethora of devices and OS versions. It is challenging enough as it is, as evidenced by battery drain issues experienced by some on the latest version of the Apple Watch software.

Also, hardware issues could potentially arise. For example, there could be connectivity issues between the watch and various Android phone models. Furthermore, Apple would have to consider the diverse range of third-party apps available on Android and their integration with the watch. This would go against the company’s closed software ecosystem.

Last thoughts

Don’t let Apple’s strategy come as too much of a surprise to you. Belief in Android phone connectivity was always a long-shot.

The Apple Watch serves to strengthen Apple’s ecosystem. Its close connections to health features and other iPhone-centric features make it indispensable for iPhone users, adding layers of value. And it is representative of wider trends in the market.

The Samsung Glaxy Watch works best if you have a Samsung phone. If you opt for another phone, there will be limitations. For those with Android phones, there are a plethora of wearOS devices. Finally, you can always opt for a Garmin or Fitbit timepiece. Those will work regardless of the operating system your phone is running on.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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