24 Jul In Apple Watch Debut, Signs of a Familiar Path to Success
Asking if the Apple Watch will become a hit or a flop is a bit like asking if my 2-year-old daughter is destined to go to Yale or to jail. Interested parties can speculate on the basis of thin evidence — she learned to walk pretty early, though on the other hand, she still thinks cats say “bow wow” — but youth is inherently unpredictable, and anyone venturing a long-term forecast based on short-term performance runs the risk of looking quite silly.
Technology pundits tend to be a rash bunch, though, so there has been no shortage of prognostication about the Apple Watch, a device that went on sale three months ago. Because reviews (including mine) were mixed and the device hasn’t proved to be culturally revolutionary, some are declaring the watch dead on arrival.
Apple has declined to provide sales figures for the watch, its newest product. In its earnings report for the fiscal third quarter, released on Tuesday — the first to include sales of the Apple Watch — the company was cagey about sales, with Timothy D. Cook, the chief executive, saying the device had “a great start.”
Analysts’ estimates vary wildly, with many originally predicting that Apple sold three million to five million watches from April to the end of June. After studying Apple’s opaque earnings report, several analysts revised their estimates down to about 1.5 million to three million watches. Even at the lower end, that’s the opposite of instant death: Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, pointedly said the watch sold more in its first nine weeks on the market than either the iPhone or the iPad did in that same period.
Yet the future of the Apple Watch will not be determined by first-quarter sales. Apple’s product debuts tend to follow a well-worn script: A first-generation device is always criticized as overpriced and a bit lacking in utility and is often vulnerable to the charge that it is a solution in search of a problem. Then, over a few years, Apple and its customers figure out the best uses for the gadget, and the company methodically improves design and functionality to meet those needs. It also tends to lower its prices. Correspondingly, sales explode.
Given this history, the question to ask about the Apple Watch isn’t how well it has sold so far, but how well Apple is following that script. Is it moving quickly to address the early criticism of the watch and to expand access to and functionality of the device?
The answer here is far more definitive than the murky sales figures: So far, Apple is following exactly the same playbook for the watch that it did for the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. If it sticks to that pattern — trying to add new capabilities to the device while perhaps lowering prices and expanding distribution — the future of the Apple Watch could be bright. The only catch is that determining success will take months, if not years. Waiting may be too much to ask of itchy tech observers, especially because Mr. Cook’s legacy is riding on his ability to introduce a new product category to the world’s tech-obsessed masses. But waiting may be the only option.