Apple does it again

Enrique Dans
Apr 12, 2015 · 3 min read

Once again, Apple has taken a niche market, in this case the smartwatch, and has reinvented it. The figures speak for themselves: every Apple Watch in every shop in the United States has been sold, while waiting times are now between four and six weeks.

If you want to buy an Apple Watch today and you go to a shop or website to choose a model, make your order and expect to have one on your wrist on April 24, the official launch day, forget it: you wont be wearing one until around June. And if you live in Switzerland, it will take even longer. That said, if you work for Apple, you could get one for half price.

Tim Cook’s optimism was more than justified. None of the usual explanations can minimize these figures: the company has made between five and six million units for the official launch, out of a total of 65 million that it intends to produce.

That’s a lot of watches for the debut of a product in a category that is still completely and unknown quantity, where the competitor that set the ball rolling through a crowdfunding project that broke all the records, Pebble, managed to sell a total of one million units over the course of the more than two years that have passed since it began shipping its smartwatches out.

For any other brand, deciding to make tens of millions of units in a category where more than 40 other companies are competing, with others lining up to enter would be madness. But for Apple, with the experience learned from its previous launches for products such as the iPod, iPhone, or iPad, this is simply business as usual.

How will Apple’s success change the ecosystem we know? In at least five ways:

1. The wristwatch was a category subject to unpredictable tendencies, with the smartphone eating into the market, and with multiple uses (activity quantification, monitoring health parameters, etc.) on the horizon. Previsions to sell between 30 and sixty million Apples Watches in 2015 alone suggests that we’re going to be seeing these things on many people’s wrists. The wide range of models on the market is designed to avoid “another watch” perceptions.

2. We’re going to have to get used to people looking at their watch when talking to us. With more than a thousand apps approved by the company for the Apple Watch, when somebody sneaks a glance at their wrist no longer necessarily means “hurry up, I have to go,” and is more like simply a sign that they are receiving a message.

3. The Apple Watch is being positioned in the health monitoring niche; a large number of Apple clients have already agreed to share their health parameters with medical researchers. It’s not so crazy to think that all these people wearing a watch that measures basic health parameters could end up making a tangible contribution to the progress of medical science.

4. It would seem likely that the product will follow the patterns set by other Apple stuff: in about a year, we’ll see a second edition with modifications that will likely affect its external appearance — it’s important to visually differentiate the buyers of the new model — and a range of new and revised features.

5. Within around two years, we’ll see sales level off and reach a plateau, while sales from other competitors, probably focused on Android, will start to grow. This is what has happened previously with Apple: it redefines the category, successfully exploits it for a couple of years, and then concedes growth with low margins to other competitors to consolidate itself in the luxury segment with consistent margins.

Once again, an electronics consumer goods company has used the radical success of its products to radically redefine trends, not in technology, but in society. While you try to find explanations and say to yourself, “I don’t really want one”, or “it’s not the best in its category,” as you probably did with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, you find yourself reading what Patrick Bateman, Bret Easton Ellis’s lead character from American Psycho, would have made of the Apple Watch


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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