When Apple teased us with a fascinating glimpse of the Apple Watch in September, it was apparent that the forthcoming device was the culmination of years of careful design and planning, with a rich set of features which would complement and enhance the iPhone. Instead of being just another smart watch that’s packed full of technology for the sake of it, Apple has aimed squarely at the fashion and luxury market to appeal to an audience far wider than technophiles.
We could have written on article on why the Apple Watch will fail. But even those who would love that to happen stand to benefit if it does succeed – as more competition, higher quality materials, better designs and more apps will force its rivals to improve their own offerings, just like the smartphone market.
A blend of form, function and style
The detractors believe that the Apple Watch will be an unmitigated disaster – and why wouldn’t they? Arguably no other smart watch to date has managed to blend form, function and style so well, or even generated as much excitement and headlines. Even companies like Pebble, which was one of the first to release a product that wasn’t half-baked, has failed to become a mass market device. Outside of tech pundits and those in the industry, how many people do you know that have even heard of the Pebble watch?
There are doubtless many reasons why the Apple Watch could fail – battery life is expected to be short (Apple already said they expect the device to be charged nightly), and there’s perhaps a lack of a clear purpose for the watch…yet. But in many ways that doesn’t matter because developers will create apps that eventually prove to be the “killer apps” just like they have done for our smartphones and tablets.
Apple’s rivals fail to ignite the wearables market
Apple’s main rival in the smartphone market – Samsung – already has a range of smart watches called Galaxy Gear, but they have not sold well by any measure. The first version was announced in September 2013 at a Samsung Unpacked event in Berlin but suffered from poor battery life, a clunky interface and questionable aesthetics that failed to catch the public’s imagination. Marketed as a companion device for all of its Galaxy smartphones and tablets, it’s fair to say that Samsung rushed a product out of the door simply to beat Apple to market.
Undeterred, a raft of other tech companies since jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to make an impact in wearables and smart watches. LG, Motorola and many others have released their own smart watches – some of them not actually that bad – in order to be first out of the door.
However, as is typical with Apple, the company would rather bide its time and release a product when it’s truly ready, rather than simply be the first. Even Google has its eye on wearables – its Android Wear platform aims to provide developers with the tools needed to create apps and user interfaces for a wide variety of wearables.
Why will the Apple Watch succeed where others have failed?
Many people don’t bother to wear a watch any more. That’s partly because a smartphone does a much better job of actually telling the time i.e. to within a few microseconds, and we carry our smartphones with us everywhere. The dwindling number of people that actually wear watches do so as more of a fashion statement, or simply because an expensive or luxury timepiece is a nice thing to wear. It doesn’t even matter if an expensive watch tells the time correctly – they look and feel great and make a bold statement about the wearer (that may be why some people don’t want to wear one!).
The Apple Watch obviously has to do more than just tell the time, and it does offer some compelling functions and capabilities, but Apple is the only smart watch designer that has genuine appeal as a high quality brand that makes consistently desirable high-end products.
Who hasn’t lusted after the svelte aluminium iPhone or the sleek and carefully-crafted lines of a MacBook Pro or iMac? Consumers have voted with their wallets, and time after time demonstrated that they are willing to spend more on Apple products, partly because they are so well made. The same design principles will make the Apple Watch an incredibly desirable piece of kit, not only for the early adopters but ordinary folks who wouldn’t necessarily wear a normal watch.
The watch industry responds
Benjamin Clymer is a well known watch fanatic, and says on his watch site Hodinkee that “the overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything – digital or analog – in the watch space at $350,” and that “There is nothing that comes close to the fluidity, attention to detail, or simple build quality found on the Apple Watch in this price bracket”.
After some hands-on time with the Apple Watch, he also said:
Apple got more details right on their watch than the vast majority of Swiss and Asian brands do with similarly priced watches, and those details add up to a really impressive piece of design. It offers so much more functionality than other digitals it’s almost embarrassing.
That’s not to say Apple Watch will be a threat to the luxury Swiss watches that costs thousands, but it’s certainly a threat to every other smart watch not only in terms of the features and the metal fascia, but even the straps which have been painstakingly crafted with an astounding level of detail:
And that leads me to my next point. Apple absolutely, positively, indisputably NAILED its straps and bracelets. In addition to offering a bevy of options from leather to fluoroelastomer to link bracelets to Milanese, it is here that you really see how much attention Apple was paying to the way people wear watches, and how bad the existing options were.
Millions of iPhone owners will buy the Apple Watch
At this point it seems clear that almost everybody will want the Apple Watch, but the problem is that nobody will actually need one. Nobody needs a luxury watch either, but that doesn’t stop them selling by the millions. You could argue that the Apple Watch will become obsolete quickly, perhaps just a year or two after purchase. But at the end of the day it’s not as straightforward as comparing the Apple Watch to traditional watches – they are completely different in almost every way.
Even if the Apple Watch receives modest praise when it’s released in a few months, millions of iPhone owners have already said that they strongly intend to buy one. That figure, according to Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, is currently around 7% of iPhone owners and he expects Apple to sell about 10 million during the first year.
In contrast, Wall Street’s consensus is around 15 million while “supply chain sources” indicate nearly 20 million according to Munster (caution: this is the guy who still believes that Apple will make a television set – a product where margins are so razor thin that Apple is unlikely ever to make one when it already has a product which makes much more sense i.e. the Apple TV).
Munster also has a poor track record in predicting Apple’s numbers – according to Pundit Tracker he scores an unremarkable “F” in accuracy with just 42% of his predictions proven on the mark. Nevertheless, while 7% of iPhone owners doesn’t sound that high, 20 million devices is quite an opening for a completely new and mostly unproven product. For comparison, Samsung’s first version of the Galaxy Gear was reported by Reuters to have sold just 800,000 units, but that was later disputed by various news agencies who claimed that the numbers were actually devices shipped and not sold. Stuffing channel inventory does not equate to sales.
Perhaps a better comparison would be with Motorola’s well received Moto 360 smart watch, which sold out fairly quickly when it was released. A report by Canalys in November stated that the combined total of all wearables (bands, watches, etc) worldwide in Q3 2014 was nearly 5 million, with 15% (750,000) attributed to Motorola and 12% (600,000) to Pebble. That makes a potential 20 million Apple Watch sales seem rather more impressive.
The Apple Watch will dominate smart watches in 2015
It’s easy to make bold claims that the Apple Watch will be a roaring success, but when you consider Apple’s knack for creating desirable, functional and exquisitely engineered products that people love, the odds are currently stacked in their favour. Google will no doubt improve and enhance its Android Wear platform over the next year, which in turn will lead to dozens of great Android-based watches.
Just like the smartphone industry though, even if Apple eventually loses market share in terms of the number of watches sold, they will probably still make the lion’s share of the profits and ultimately invest that money in creating even better products.
Despite its limitations, such as reliance on an iPhone and no built-in cellular connectivity, the Apple Watch has just enough compelling features (like Apple Pay compatibility) that consumers are likely to forgive most of its shortcomings at least in the first generation.
So as far as 2015 goes, Apple looks set to make a great start to the year with the Apple Watch. But of course, only time will tell…
Let us know in the comments whether you think the Apple Watch will succeed?