Where Are All The Apple Watches?

Yesterday, Apple (AAPL $110) announced the first round of updates to its Apple Watch, one year to the day after first announcing the product. On the fashion side, updates include new accessories, two new metal colors, and a partnership with French luxury brand Hermes. On the technical side, the update introduces WatchOS2, the first update to the device’s operating system. The improved OS will be able to run apps natively on the Watch instead of on the user’s iPhone, thereby improving speed and expanding functionality so that third-party apps will be able to take advantage of the Watch’s Taptic Engine system of interaction and sensors, such as the heart-rate monitor and microphone.

The Watch is a beautiful piece of technology, but is it catching on? I loved it immediately a year ago when photos of the elegant clasping mechanism and crystal-clear screen appeared. I liked that I would be able to swap wrist bands easily. I liked the idea of changing watch faces with a click or two. Then I asked myself, “Beyond telling time, what would I do with it?”

This wasn’t a rhetorical question doubting the device’s utility. I really wondered what new capabilities would come my way via the Watch. Then, it finally debuted in April and I couldn’t wait to try it out. I went into Apple stores from Tokyo to New York to Colorado and was met with the same scene in each place: empty Watch tables among the usual crowds at other tables. I asked employees if the Watch was popular, and received mixed responses. The ones who were enthusiastic about it were very enthusiastic. The others seemed to not quite know what to do with it.

“That’s what I’m wondering,” I told a worker in the Omotesando Store in Tokyo. “What would I do with it?” He proceeded to show me, using his own Watch and iPhone. He was most excited about the capability of using it to control his phone for selfie photographs. “Instead of holding it out on a stick or something,” he said, “I can set the phone over there and then see in the watch face how the view looks from the phone.” He demonstrated this by setting the phone on a shelf and returning to me. Sure enough, he could zoom in and frame a shot of the two of us, then snap it from the watch. “Pretty cool, right?” he said, and I agreed.

The problem is that pretty cool isn’t enough to justify the outlay of hundreds of dollars for what amounts to a remote control for another mobile device — which is almost always on the user’s person. The camera trick notwithstanding, how much value can we get from the ability to control a device in one of our hands with another device strapped to one of our wrists? Not much, in my view. I certainly don’t need to see on my watch when my phone received a text, nor a weather report that’s on my phone.

What about health, then? It might be useful to monitor my body’s vital signs with my watch. Well, I already tried dedicated fitness monitors on my wrist and found that after a bit of usage to see how much benefit I received from walking stairs, going for a jog, riding my bicycle, and so on, the novelty wore off. My routines are pretty well set, and I don’t need to check a device to see if walking through the park at lunch time is good for my body or not. I know it is, devices have already verified this, and I don’t need another one to do so again.

Now, if I want the Watch for other reasons and on top of those it can also monitor my fitness activity, then fine, but as a standalone reason to buy a Watch, I think this falls short. Fitness freaks will go with a dedicated fitness monitor, which they can buy for much less than the cost of an Apple Watch.

After finding myself at a loss for reasons to buy an Apple Watch, I began looking for the same proliferation of the devices that I’d seen when the Watch’s predecessors — the family of iThings — made their various debuts. I remember iPods cropping up everywhere, the iPhones even more so, and the iPad showing up on trains and planes as a great way to share photos and read. I kept my eyes peeled and saw the new Apple Watch…

Nowhere.

Again, from Tokyo to New York to Colorado, I didn’t see one anywhere outside an Apple Store for the longest while. To date, still observing all around me as I go through life, I’ve seen a grand total of three Watches in the wild. I thought maybe this was due to it having been hidden under sleeves, but it’s been summer with people in short sleeves. Besides, if the Watch roared onto the scene in the style of its predecessors, I should have seen people glancing at it on planes and trains, occasionally in meetings, and elsewhere. Nope. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to find the thing in action beyond those three occasions.

Wondering what in the world was going on, I made another stop into an Apple Store a few weeks ago, this one in Tokyo’s Ginza district, the store where I bought my current MacBook Pro. It’s the first Apple Store built outside the United States, and still the tallest one anywhere. Because Tokyo is a travel hub, the Apple Ginza branch is a fine place to gauge the international appeal of a device.

What did I find? Not much interest in the Watch. Below is a shot I took from the back area of the first floor of the store. The table in the foreground and the near one against the left wall showed Watches beside screens explaining them. The one immediately beyond it showed Watches under glass. The tables in the background with all the crowds around them showed other Apple products, the ones people use. Here’s the photo:

Apple Ginza Store with Little Interest in Watch

Apple Ginza Store with Little Interest in Watch. (Click for larger view.)


Is the Watch a flop? Apple won’t say. It mixes sales results for the Watch in with results of other devices. Third-party observations have been mixed. Slice Intelligence said Watch sales fell 90% by the end of June compared with its initial availability, but then Apple CEO Tim Cook said in late July that the Slice data was “absolutely false” and that the Watch had exceeded Apple’s projections. Research firm IDC sided with Apple, reporting that the company shipped 3.6 million Watches from April 24 through the end of the second quarter. If so, that’s impressive. Even if every one of the 3.6 million Watches sold was the $349 entry model, that’s $1.256B in revenue.

Yet, it’s hard to forget that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sold 10 million units the first weekend they went on sale.

Cook mentioned yesterday that owners of the Watch report 97% satisfaction with it. Among the three owners I personally observed in public, then, 2.9 should have been satisfied with the device. I spoke with two of them, however, and neither reported satisfaction. One said it’s “just OK” and blamed the low battery life. The other said it’s annoying that the face always goes black to save battery power, and told me it seemed to “defeat the purpose of strapping a watch to your wrist.” I rushed to the device’s defense. “But doesn’t it do so much more than just tell time?” I asked. “I guess,” he said, “but I kind of expected an object called a watch to handle the time-telling job without question.” Point taken. The thing really is just a black rectangle most of the time.

Until Apple releases sales figures, all we have to go on are conflicting research-firm reports and anecdotal observations of the type I’ve shared here. The anecdotes do make one wonder, though. If the world is teeming with Apple Watches, where are they?

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4 Comments

  1. pk
    Posted September 10, 2015 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Jason,

    I had bought Moto360. And returned it in 90 days back to Costco.

    In my view we all wear watch as accessory apart from utility and also to show our personality and type and style of watch. The show part totally is missing when the electronic watch face is black for everyone except you when you check the time. Apple watch gives that only with regular, sport, gold version.

  2. RickB
    Posted September 11, 2015 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Sorry Jason, but it seems to me that folks in the investment community are almost inventing reasons to be bearish on Apple. Anecdotal evidence is useless when it comes to climate change predictions and it is probably the same when it comes to the watch. For the first year of its existence, I rarely came across anyone using an iPad.

  3. scott
    Posted September 11, 2015 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    I have yet to see anyone wearing one. But can’t say I’ve been really looking. Have had a few friends rave about their fitbit’s.

    Bottom line, the watch is meaningless for Apple simply because apple sells 200 million iphones per year. Apple could sell more cars than GM, more watches than everyone else, go into more lines of business, and few billion of income here and there is just a speck compared to iphone.

    Once the iphone party is over, then maybe we could possibly start to care about the stupid watch.

  4. Foraiyah
    Posted September 11, 2015 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    Morning,
    Big fan of your books on stocks* with that said, regarding your email to ‘where are all the apple watches?’
    Apple watches are costly, chunky and out of style. Competitors such as Garmin and Fitbit are increasing becoming more popular because they not only provide more features, their small on the hand, count steps etc and most importantly they are affordable. That is the new trend but the stock market does not currently reflect the increase in these watches for Garmin as its been going down since their outing. GRMN ($36.61) as of September 10th.

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