When Apple revealed the Apple Watch in September last year, it was clear that the new wearable was the pinnacle of years of development, planning and research, with rich features that would enhance the iPhone and other Apple devices. Rather than just being packed full of technology for the sake of it, the watch is trying to corner the fashion-conscious luxury market, and appeal to a much broader audience than just geeks and technophiles.
It would be easy to write an article on why the Apple Watch might fail, and of course plenty of those abound on the Internet, but if the new device succeeds, it will help to kick-start a revolution in wearable computing and benefit the competition – as better quality materials, fresh designs and increased innovation will force rivals to enhance their own products.
A unique blend of style and function
Perhaps no other smart watch has yet managed to successfully blend style, function and form quite like the Apple Watch, or resulted in as many headlines. Even established wearable and smart watch companies such as Pebble have not yet achieved the kind of mass market adoption that the Apple Watch could achieve.
There are of course many reasons why Apple’s device could fail to sell. Battery life will doubtless be short, and there is arguably a lack of purpose for it. In some ways that doesn’t really matter, because developers will in time create unique apps that do things we cannot yet imagine with the Watch. The situation will mirror the app explosion that has already occurred in smartphones and tablets.
The nascent wearables market is still sluggish
Apple’s rivals, like Samsung, have already released a couple of smart watches in the last year. Samsung’s own Galaxy Gear devices haven’t sold well, suffering from poor battery life, clunky functionality and unappealing aesthetics on the whole. The public hasn’t taken the bait yet.
Recently, dozens of other technology companies have announced or released smart watches and wearables, especially during the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where LG, Motorola, and many others, launched new watches just to be first out of the door before Apple weighs in.
Apple however has taken its time with the Watch. Preferring to release the product when it’s ready for prime time rather than rushing out of the gate. Even Google has recognised the potential of wearables – the Android Wear platform already provides developers with tools they need to create apps for lots of different wearables, from smart watches to fitness bands.
Why will the Apple Watch be a hit?
It’s true that many people don’t wear watches – a smartphone does a much better job of telling time accurately and we carry them with us everywhere. Those that do wear watches do so as a fashion statement, because an expensive luxury watch is actually nice to wear regardless if it tells them time accurately.
Of course, the Apple Watch must do much more than keep time, and it does offer some incredibly useful and compelling capabilities. Apple appears to recognise the importance of fashion and style, and has worked hard to create a device that people will be proud to wear as a statement as much as a piece of technology.
The public has shown time and again that they will spend more on the products made by Apple, largely because they are made from high quality materials and not least because they are easy to use.
How did the watch industry respond to the Apple Watch?
Some of the well known watch experts, such as Benjamin Clymer, have said that “the overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything – digital or analog – in the watch space at $350”, and “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”.
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”.
In terms of the design and materials, Clymer stated:
“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 will buy the Apple Watch
It seems that everybody will want the Apple Watch, but the issue is that nobody needs one. But on the other hand, few people need a luxury watch but they still sell in the millions. One issue that needs addressing is whether the watch will become obsolete just a year or two after launch, and successive generations are released. Ultimately, it’s not a simple case of comparing the Apple Watch with regular watches, as they are quite different in almost every way.
Even if the new watch garners only modest praise, there are signs that millions of iPhone owners already intend to buy one. According to Piper Jaffray, around 7% of iPhone owners intend to buy one, and they expect 10 million sales in the first year of availability.
Wall Street’s sales estimates seem to hover around 15 million units, though “supply chain sources” suggest around 20 million. In contrast, the Samsung Galaxy Gear was reported to have managed just 800,000 sales, but the figure was disputed by news agencies said the numbers were devices shipped, not sold.
Apple Watch will dominate wearables in 2015
When you look at Apple’s record in creating exquisite and desirable products that people flock to buy in the millions, the odds are stacked in Apple’s favour. Google will of course improve Android Wear over time, which will also lead to a raft of innovative new Android-based wearables.
And like the smartphone industry, Apple may lose market share in the number of wearables it sells, but they are likely to make the most profits as Android products become commoditised over time. Despite the Apple Watch’s initial limitations (dependence on an iPhone, and no cellular connectivity), the watch has enough features that make it attractive to iPhone owners – so much so that consumers will likely forgive its shortcomings for a while.
2015 will certainly be an interesting year for wearables and smart watches of all kinds. We will be watching the Apple Watch closely, but will it be a success? Only time will tell…
Larry Banks is a keen follower of technology and finance. He has worked for a variety of online publications, writing about a diverse range of topics including mobile networks, patents, and Internet video delivery technologies.