"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) products have defined technology throughout much of the last decade and changed more than one industry along the way. The company has upended music with the iPod and iTunes, telecommunications with the iPhone, created a new must-have device with the iPad, and now hopes to define wearables with Apple Watch.
What is often forgotten is that most of these devices were dismissed for one reason or another when they were launched. Whether it was claims the iPod was just another MP3 player or projections that the iPad wouldn't find a use in the consumer market, we always seem to underestimate Apple's devices when they come out. Today, many are saying the Apple Watch is an overpriced watch that won't be more than a toy for Apple's most loyal customers.
But before you dismiss the Apple Watch, remember that the beginning for other products in the Apple lineup were even more humble and didn't necessarily fit a need you knew you had. Maybe that'll be the case with Apple Watch and you won't know you need this product until you see it.
More than the sum of their pieces
Samsung or Android fans were quick to point out that most of what Apple announced at its Sept. 9 presentation has already been in the market for some time. The inclusion of near-field communication, or NFC, in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is actually years behind other devices and smart watches are becoming common as well. There are also suggestions that Apple Pay, which is the service that will initially use NFC, is also just the latest in a long line of mobile payment systems.
What often goes underestimated is that Apple's business has never been about being first to market with products or new features. It wasn't the first MP3 player, smartphone, tablet, or smart watch, but Apple takes the time to make sure that it has the features and functionality to make its devices work seamlessly for customers. Apple is about making technology usable, not just adding technology to devices where possible.
Apple Pay and NFC are prime examples of Apple building the experience and infrastructure necessary to launch a successful product before introducing it to the world. The three major credit card companies, seven major banks, and 220,000 stores will be accepting Apple Pay, plus more apps that can incorporate the system into their functionality.
This won't be the first online or NFC payment system and companies like Google and Samsung have been offering these features for some time. But when Apple introduces a new product like this it isn't just adding to a checklist of features on its devices, it's adding a system it thinks will add to the user experience of its devices.
A year or two from now you may wonder how we got along without Apple Pay and a few weeks ago we didn't even know we needed it.
The ecosystem drives Apple's success
One of the biggest reasons it's so hard to predict the future of Apple products is that Apple itself is building a platform that thousands of other developers use to create the apps we use everyday. If you're like me, you use Apple apps like Mail and Messages but it's third party apps that add real value to Apple's devices.
We've seen this with the iPhone and iPad and a similar dynamic may play out with the Apple Watch. The product we see today may be transformed completely by third party apps that improve the device's features for consumers.
It's also possible that Apple Pay is incorporated into apps in ways that make purchasing more convenient at a number of locations. But having so many locations on board, and a consistent user experience, has already made Apple Pay a competitor to entrenched payment systems like Google Wallet or PayPal.
Don't count Apple's new products out
The impact of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Apple Watch, and Apple Pay is hard to quantify at the moment because we don't know exactly what they'll look like in a year or two. Developers will find new ways to use them, Apple's apps will be updated, and customers will find ways to use them that we can't imagine today.
Apple's products can't be judged accurately the moment Tim Cook gets off the stage after announcing them. The company has proven in the past that it's looking around corners consumers haven't even considered yet. Maybe Steve Jobs' comment will ring true again. Maybe you won't know how much you needed these devices until a few years from now when we look back and wonder how we lived without them.
Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.