iPhone or Newton: Will the Apple Watch be a Cupertino success story?

We speak to industry experts to decipher whether Apple has another hit on its hands
Will the Apple Watch sell?

Will you buy an Apple Watch? Will your friends? Will your mum? Will everyone have one? Well, if just 7% of those with an iPhone decide to go the way of the wearable, then the Cupertino coffers will be kerching-ing to the tune of 20 million unit sales by the end of the year with some reports suggesting a total Apple Watch haul of an ice cold $16.5bn by 2020. Nice work if you can get it.

But that's all figure forecasts. What do you think? Is the Apple Watch good enough to sell? Well, we're not sure that your gut instincts are that well informed but we found five sets of notional intestines that we do trust. We put the question to industry experts in tech, fashion, luxury watches, retail and consumer behaviour. This is what they said.

Consumer behaviour specialist: Philip Graves, author of Consumer.ology

Will the Apple Watch sell? Yes, partly because Apple has created this interest in what it does. It's got this reputation as a brand that makes stuff that works well; that has a social cachet to it as well as functional role. Plus, there are enough people who have bought into a sequence of their products, all of which have delivered well, even when people haven't particularly felt like they needed one. So, there's a lot of goodwill to tap into.

What will then matter is when people see other people with that cachet using them. So, if Apple has got its usability right, then what we'll all see is people sitting in meetings or in their houses playing with their wrists like they never have before. And that will draw attention to this product line and could have it seen as a natural extension of the phone.

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It doesn't need to do much in the way of functionality for people to adopt it into their own lives. iPads don't do much in particular. A lot of spending is based on desire and not need and Apple does really well with connecting with that desire.

If you spend half an hour with someone who's got one, and they are doing things on it, then you will feel as a human being that you are missing out by not having it too. Given the ever-present nature of the watch, that could be very powerful indeed.

Watch industry expert: Kelly Jasper, senior editor at Hodinkee

Design. That's the first thing that comes to mind for a watch that sells. The second thing is an element of aspiration. That means that very few people today still buy watches for their functional benefits. It's more about the aesthetics and about what that actual product says about that person as an individual. Lastly, watches have always been a status symbol in the sense that people have bought them to mark certain high points in their lives - graduating from college, getting their first high paying job - it's always had a very emotional aspect to it. Does the Apple Watch have these things? No, no and no.

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It can't be compared to really elegant watches from the best manufacturers like A. Lange & Sohne. Compared to other wearable devices, though, it does stand out. Apple wants to have that aspirational element to the product. That's why they've made one in yellow gold, but the key market for Apple is not the consumer that spends $50,000 or $800,000 on watches. It's the consumer that has been buying watches at a lower price point. People who buy the $50,000 watches will probably get an Apple Watch just to buy it - it's less than the tax than they pay on these other watches. They'll wear it to the gym because it's something that can track their biometric performance.

The only market that I think that will actually view it as a status object is a lower-end consumer - one that was spending $300-2,000 on watches - which quite honestly is huge portion of the market. There is the potential for that group of people to see it as a status object but that novelty will wear off after a while.

Where Apple will really excel is in the market of people who don't wear watches at all. For millions, this will be the first time they consider wearing something around their wrist.

Tech industry insider: Ben Wood, chief of research at CSS Insight

It will sell - the question is how many. We're saying 20 million units. We believe there's an install base of 280 million iPhones out there and we're comparing it to the adoption rate of the iPad. When the iPad launched, it was a device that people didn't really know what they were going to use it for but they felt like they wanted one and we feel there's similar market dynamics around the Apple Watch.

What I expect Apple to do is deliver some really clear use cases which consumers can look at and understand why they'll want a smartwatch and they'll be able to do that because they have such a strong developer community.

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It's clearly going to be the must-have gadget for 2015. There's going to be an initial burst of interest. Overnight, it will becomes the single most successful wearable device ever launched.

On it's own, it's already a guaranteed success in the context of the wearables market but will it be a success in the context of Apple that sells hundreds of iPhones every minute? Well, that's a whole different order of magnitude.

Fashion expert: Jacob Kampp Berliner, CEO of Soulland

Yes, I think Apple can make that $16.5bn. I actually think that, for the Apple Watch, the thing you are buying into is a stronger signal than the design - so, yes, people will buy it. It will still be niche for now - and for the first couple of years - but, as more functions go into it, like payment etc, it will go mainstream. I see it like the first Apple computers. They were originally also for the few with a totally different design, a different interface. Now, they're for everybody.

Sure, there's an obvious problem that everyone might be wearing one but Apple is good at telling the story that all its users are unique. You feel unique having an iPhone even though everybody else has one too.

Apple speak to people with high buying power, so they already made you unique by having the money to buy its products in the first place. I think, to begin, it will be a little slower but, if the features of the watch are good, people will buy it regardless of whether others are wearing them too.

Retail expert: Matthew Chapman, senior reporter at Retail Week

There's been some scepticism about the smartwatch sector because the Samsung devices haven't sold that well, but there's a sense of excitement around the Apple Watch for retailers. Seb James, the boss at Dixons, seems pretty excited about it and Maplin is confident that the Apple Watch will sell well too although the CEO there, John Cleland, does point out that kids don't wear watches these days. So, it's possible that the idea of a smartwatch is redundant.

The general consensus, though, is that if anyone's going to crack the smartwatch market it's going to be Apple because of their heritage in creating this design-led product that people will want to wear. You'd have to be pretty brave to bet against them because of their success in other product areas.

It will definitely kickstart the wearables market. It's already doing well but this will take it to the next level. But, it's probably make or break for the smartwatch space itself. If this Apple device flops, then I find it hard to see how anyone else is going to make it work.

You?

What do you reckon? Is the Apple Watch going to be a huge success story like the iPads, iPhones and Macs that have come before it, or is the Apple Watch the next Cupertino flop?

Let us know using the comments below...

6 Comments

  • SashaPave says:

    I predict modest sales for v1. The second rev will take the watch past early adopters. 

  • grant says:

    Sorry to quibble, but the iPhone and Newton are not necessarily opposite end of the “success” scale, particularly if you look beyond the obvious sales and adoption rate numbers. The iPhone has had it’s share of flaws and glitches, whereas the Newton platform certainly has its own redeeming aspects in terms of technology and innovation. People forget that the Newton didn’t “fail” right out of the gate. It was developed and improved over the course of five years before being yanked.

    • p.lamkin says:

      nice trolling. good one.

  • itb says:

    Apple has the ability to bring a large, profitable market to the smart watch concept. That will then bring the best app developers over and some very creative and efficient new apps. Some of which will be "must try." As version 2, 3, 4, etc. get better battery life, more processing power, price comes down and kids start using for communication, it will become "must have" for a much larger market.

  • Jhg says:

    But will there be a left-handed version?

  • Robbzilla says:

    Yes. The Apple watch will sell like crazy. 

    It's been gimped (No heart rate monitor) and it fairly ugly (one man's opinion), and likely will lack other features that many of the newer smart watches already have. 

    But.... it's Apple. People are chomping at the bit for it. Not as a functional device, but as a status symbol. It will likely be fairly slick at what it CAN do, and that'll be enough to spur sales. It won't matter that it's not as functional. 

    And, of course, being Apple, it'll probably have one or two surprises up its sleeve for us all. 

    Will I buy one? Heck no. Not on your life. But oh yeah, it'll sell. 

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