If you are among the 19 million people Apple predicts will buy an Apple Watch, I have some bad news for you — I’m betting there is an important feature missing from the watch that’s going to drive you nuts.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy one. In fact, I’m ordering one myself. However, this paradox illustrates an important lesson for the way companies design their products.

Rarely are v.1 products very good. How is it, then, that some products thrive despite flagrant shortcomings?

Meet Mr. Kano

To find out why you’ll likely be disappointed by the Apple Watch, meet Professor Noriaki Kano. In the 1980s Professor Kano developed a model to explain a theory of customer satisfaction.

Kano believes products have particular attributes, which are directly responsible for users’ happiness. He discovered that some qualities matter more than others. Kano describes three product attribute types — (loosely translated from Japanese as) delightful, linear, and hygienic features.


A delightful feature is an attribute of a product that customers love but do not expect. For example, if the Apple Watch madeyou coffee every morning, that would be a delightfully surprising feature.

A linear feature, on the other hand, is one users expect. More of that quality increases satisfaction. Battery life is an example of a linear feature of the Apple Watch. You trust that it will last all day but the more juice the battery has, the less you need to charge it, and the happier you are.

Customers are typically able to articulate the linear attributes of a product – “I want it to have long battery life” – whereas by definition they can’t tell they want a delightful feature until they’ve seen it in action. Like knowing the punchline of a joke, if you know what to expect it fails to delight.

Finally, hygienic or “basic” features are must-haves. Customers not only expect these attributes, they depend on them. If the Apple Watch is bad at telling time, for example, you would undoubtedly be very ticked (tocked) off.

Ellen DeGeneres tweeted a sardonic comment that perfectly demonstrates what happens when we make a basic feature sound like a delighter.

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Joking aside, Apple CEO Tim Cook knows just how important telling time is for an expensive timepiece. Cook emphasizes that the device is accurate within 50 milliseconds. In addition, when the battery is almost depleted, the watch kicks into “Power Reserve” mode, shutting down everything but the ability to see the time.

Obviously, Apple understands telling time is a hygienic feature. However, when it comes to this basic feature, something is still missing — which finally brings me to what will likely annoy you about the Apple Watch.

Inconspicuous Consumption

A basic attribute of any watch is that it allows wearers to see the time all the time. With a regular watch, checking the time couldn’t be easier. You only need to  glance down to know what time it is — not so with the Apple Watch.

To save battery life, the watch goes dark when it thinks you’re not using it. To turn it back on, you have to shake the device with enough momentum to, in Apple’s words, “Activate on Wrist Raise.”

Early Apple Watch reviewer John Gruber, wrote about his experience wearing the device during the end of a meeting with a friend. “It got to 3:00 or so, and I started glancing at my watch every few minutes. But it was always off … the only way I could check the time was to artificially flick my wrist or to use my right hand to tap the screen — in either case, a far heavier gesture than the mere glance I’d have needed with my regular watch.”

Who hasn’t sat across from an overly gabby colleague wondering whether you’ll be late to your next meeting? If we’ve bothered to wear a watch, we expect to be able to see the time at a glance. But if telling the time on your Apple Watch requires a spastic wrist jolt, you’ll curse it.

Gruber continued, “… for regular watch wearers, it’s going to take some getting used to, and it’s always going to be a bit of an inconvenience compared to an always-glance-able watch. It’s a fundamental conflict: a regular watch never turns off, but a display like Apple Watch’s cannot always stay on.”

The problem is significant enough that other smart watch makers already see Apple’s failing as an opportunity. The recently announced Pebble Time for example uses a low-power color e-paper display and never goes dark.

You’ll Still Buy It

Of course, all this doesn’t mean you’re not going to buy the watch. Apple may very well make the wake feature so sensitive that few people are troubled by it. After all, even an obvious wrist shake is better than the inconvenience of checking the time by taking out your phone. However, greater turn-on sensitivity will come at the expense of battery life, a compromise consumers aren’t going to be happy about. To avoid disappointment, keep your expectations low and be prepared to miss some basic features you’d expect from even a cheap watch.

Remember, in the beginning the iPhone had its problems. Apple’s choice of AT&T as the exclusive service provider for the first few generations of the iPhone meant more dropped calls and poor reception. The device was often loathed for its inability to deliver the basic Kano feature customers expected most from a phone, namely, to complete a call!

Over time, the technology improved, but why did people put up with these seemingly fatal flaws for so long? Here again, the Kano model helps us better understand the mindset of consumers.

People kept using (and often praising) the iPhone because the delight factor made up for it’s lack of basic attributes. Mainly, Apple’s App Store and its near infinite variety of nifty solutions provide a constant stream of delightful features even Steve Jobs could never have imagined.

The iPhone still doesn’t make coffee, but it does so many other surprising things you didn’t know it could do when you bought it (from checking your heart beat to identifying constellations) that you overlook its flaws.

As for the Apple Watch, over time Apple will no doubt fix quirks in the first generation just as it did in subsequent iPhone editions. Ultimately, better battery life or alternative screens will keep future versions lit throughout the day. But the real delighter behind the Apple Watch, like the iPhone, will be the apps. Cook recently sent an email to Apple employees announcing that more than 1,000 apps have already been submitted.

Expect future generations of the Apple Watch to have more delightful features customers currently don’t expect like new apps and other improvements. My money is betting that the Apple Watch 2 will come with a forward facing camera, which wearers will discover makes taking pictures even easier and faster than using their phones. And it adds an element of delight every time they take a surprisingly good shot.

We have a love / hate relationship with technology and the Apple Watch will be no exception. By applying Kano’s model, companies can overcome the unavoidable deficiencies that come with new products by building-in features that continue to surprise and impress.

Here’s the Gist:

  • Dr. Noriaki Kano developed a revealing model for understanding how various product features affect customer happiness.
  • A “delightful” feature is an attribute of the product customers love but do not expect — for example, new apps in the app store.
  • A “linear” feature is one the user expects and more of that quality increases satisfaction — think more battery life.
  • A “hygienic” feature is a must-have. Customers not only expect these attributes, they depend on them — for example, reliably telling the time on a watch.
  • To save battery life, Apple designed the Apple Watch to only display the time when it thinks you’re looking at it. This violates a hygienic feature and will annoy users.
  • However, like the first versions of the iPhone, users will forgive the watch’s flaws if the delightful features (namely the apps in the App store) knock their socks off.
  • Products can win markets by ensuring their “delighter” features compensate for flaws.
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  • Alejandro Tripoli

    Nir, very interesting point of view, In my opinion there is another factor that Mr Kano did not mention at all, what happen with the emocional feature, the opportunity to tell the world that I am trendy, that I am fashion, etc.etc- My wife bought an iphone 6 just for using whatsapp an email. In my opinion she discover another factor which is the emotional feature.

    • Jonathan Spooner

      Great point Alejandro – and I thought Nir was starting to allude to this point when he mentioned “inconspicuous consumption”.

      I would imagine Prof. Kano would attribute brand affinity (the emotional pride of ownership) to either the Linear or Delight feature sets.

      Either the customer has purchased the item because of effective branding/peer pressure and is fulfilling a Linear feature they know- “Everyone will gawk at my Apple Watch so I’ll make sure I wear short sleeves today”

      Or the customer bought the watch and a delightful side-benefit is the fact that everyone stops and asks if that is an Apple Watch!

    • Among Kano classifiers, what you describe would be considered an Attractive quality. Attractive qualities are generally product differentiator or novelties.

  • Kevin Berg Kartaszewicz-Grell

    Nir, great insights… Thanks for sharing.
    Do you have any thoughts on which Kano features impact acquisition and retention? My gist tells me that hygenic and linear attributes have great impact on acquisition while delightful attributes can boost retention if “revealed” correctly. However, it would be great to know if there has been any research conducted on this subject.

    Love your blog!

  • Hi Nir – Aside from the obvious trolling, I’m not sure the Kano model is the best lens through which to view Apple products because it assumes an industrial, bill of materials approach to product design. Apple products inevitably lose in checklist-oriented feature set comparisons. Where they succeed is in their almost childlike simplicity and capacity to delight. And they don’t delight by doing things like “make you coffee,” but by doing the right things well, seamlessly, and showing passionate attention to detail. Based on my limited hands-on time with the device,I expect the Apple Watch to be no different. I’m sure the team would have killed it (as they have killed so many other products) if it didn’t deliver on its promise. But that remains to be seen. I look forward to your companion follow-up piece on “Here’s Why You’ll Love the Apple Watch” once you’ve lived with it for a while.

  • Spurres

    Just a quick thought. Why compare “wrist shake” to “taking out your phone” to check time? We do have our wrist watch to do that! This might be a serious red flag (among many many others, cf iPhone V1) Apple must see to. ^KB

  • musesum

    From Gruber’s review, the taptic engine is a prime candidate for surprising delight. A new kind of kinesthetic messaging: to reach out and touch someone you love – no matter where they are.

    I keep hearing people describing the Apple watch as a Watch+other stuff. If you already wear a watch then yes, you’re replace one thing with another. For others, it is new way of instrumenting your body. As a new way to feel the moment.

  • Tom Peters

    I was concerned I might be disappointed in my Apple Watch based on this article but now that I have it in my hands and have used it, I realize this article is just click bait. There is no issue, just like Apple iPhones bending was a made up issue by bloggers trying to get attention.

  • Jon


    Ellen’s Tweet makes a good point. Why do you say you’d still by one? I’m intrigued.

    To be clear, I love Apple as a company, it’s social awareness, design, etc. I’ve owened every iPhone, currently have the 6, we have two iPads, iPods, a MacBook Pro and iMac computers. We also have Apple TV.

    Apple used to be a high-end retailer and you’d pay up for that. It was reserved for a niche market and professional applications. IPod and iPhone changed that to where Apple is a commercial company as we know it. They’re drive is to seek the mass consumer. Having said that I beleive trendiness has a lot to do with their success. But I won’t be buying the watch.

    It’s cool, yes. If I was given one Id definitely wear it. But in my opinion it screams “look at me I fit in” perhaps amongst a certain person who needs that confidence or something or another. But logically, i don’t see why you’d get one. I’d want the classy stainless steel band for example. For almost $1000 Id rather buy a fit bit to satisfy any and all health-related monitoring needs and go buy an actual time piece like a Tag Heuer, or even entry level Invicta or Movado. I personally don’t get why one would get sucked into the bait of bloating apples margins when you can go buy a nice, stylish, sophisticated timepiece, but to each their own. I know today most probably wouldn’t appreciate the craftsmanship and pride going into owning one.

    As said on CNBC, it could go either way – “(paraphrased) a sophosticared and logical person will keep their iPhone as an amazing device and spend good money on an actual watch. No millionaire is going to buy an apple watch for $18,000 which is the same as all the entry-level watches, but just plated in gold with no craftsmanship. They want to get value for their money. But then again there’s tons of new money coming out of China where people don’t care about style, elegance or sophistication who just want what’s new, trendy, and keeps them involved in conversation in social circles. So the success of the Apple watch could go either way.”

    Would others be willing to share in their opinion why they’ll be deciding to buy one? It would be insightful and appreciated.