The Apple Watch got its big long-awaited debut on March 9, with a showy unveiling by Apple that revealed many details and features that were left out of the product’s initial announcement back in September 2014.
Now, consumers know more about the pricing for the three Apple Watch models, from the $349 Sport model all the way up to the $17,000, top-level upscale luxury Apple Watch Edition version, as well as more about their specifications, capabilities and components.
So, now that preorders for Apple Watches will begin on April 10 in the United States, with availability starting April 24, how will consumers react and what kind of reception will the new devices get?
That depends, say several IT analysts who spoke with eWEEK about the Apple Watch and its future.
Consumers want three things from their mobile devices—interactivity, connectivity and the ability to consume content, said Dan Maycock, a mobile analyst with Transform. “Apple is really trying to push all three of those things on a really small screen on one device [with the Watch] so it will be interesting to see if they can pull it off,” he said. “It can be the greatest watch in the world, but it’s still a tiny screen.”
For Apple, however, the idea of launching the pricey luxury versions at the same time isn’t an outrageous idea, added Maycock, because there are plenty of consumers who don’t blink at all at high asking prices for status symbol watches. “I think that luxury never has had a basis in reality in terms of what something is really worth,” said Maycock. “I don’t think it’s crazy for people to drop $5,000 on a watch. It’s a fashion accessory.”
Maycock said he expects that all three models will be a hit for Apple. “And people will line up around the block to buy one, just like they did with the Apple iPhones and other mobile devices. But it’s going to be the greatest test today around the viability of the smartwatch space and how far Apple can really push the envelope in that category.”
One thing to watch for, said Maycock, is whether watch collectors will welcome Apple Watches into their collections, because they are not exactly like traditional collectible timepieces. “It’s not gaudy or overly technical,” he said of the Watch. “It doesn’t entirely look like a gadget on its surface. But will watch aficionados welcome them into their collections? I think that’s the hope. We’ll see if people embrace it or not.”
Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told eWEEK: “Apple’s slow-drip PR strategy during the past few months helped ensure that there were very few surprises during the launch.” But he said that won’t prevent the product from having huge appeal when they become available in Apple stores in April. “Apple may be the only smartphone maker with a customer fan base that is dedicated to the point of looneyness. For many of those people, the Apple Watch will be a must-have accessory.”
Buyers will have to decide if the cache of being an Apple device is enough for them to pay a premium to buy an Apple Watch, which is priced higher than many competing smartwatches, said King. “Apple’s product doesn’t do much more or much differently than any other smartwatch, and its battery life is markedly poorer than some other smartwatches,” he said. “The company’s biggest differentiator is its app developer community, but it’s too soon to tell if they’ll help make or break the Apple Watch.”
At the same time, though, the higher prices for Apple’s device won’t likely deter the company’s millions of hard-core buyers and product fans, he said.
“Smartwatches as a class of devices haven’t really been flying off the shelves, and I don’t see much of anything in the Apple Watch that will move the segment forward as a whole,” said King. “Unless the company and its developer community can help evolve the Apple Watch into a must-have device, I expect it will be remembered as a profitable yet short-lived showpiece.”
Apple Watch Gets Mixed Reactions From IT Analysts
Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group, said that the device still has a lot to prove in terms of its acceptance and true fit in the consumer marketplace. In fact, he said, by adding some smartphone functions to a wristwatch, such as the ability to make a phone call, it may actually be less useful for some users.
“In a noisy room, you are going to be screaming at the watch to be heard and trying to hold it up to your ear on your wrist,” said Enderle. “It’s just much more convenient to hold a phone up to your ear, plus you look less stupid than if you are holding your watch up to your ear on your wrist. If you’re going to create an iconic watch that’s a status symbol, you don’t want to make people look stupid.”
If the first buyers of the Apple Watch feel stupid using the devices, then a second wave of buyers will not happen, said Enderle. “Putting the speaker and the microphone into the watch is kind of like [the old, futuristic detective comic book character] Dick Tracy, but we’re not in a Dick Tracy mode anymore.”
Worse, because of the watch’s small face, as soon as people try to use it in airports to go through ticket scanners at gates, they will likely cause delays because they’ll take multiple scans to be properly read, said Enderle. “We’re not used to wearing watches anymore,” he said. “It’s that little stuff. There are a lot of opportunities to look stupid with them.”
Some of these issues will likely be worked through as smartwatches mature, said Enderle, but Apple’s decision to only allow their smartwatches to work with iOS and not with Android could hurt the company in the long run because that will hinder wider adoption. “It does lower their overall total available market because people with Android won’t be able to use it.”
One other problem, he said, is that Apple could find that its pricey $10,000 to $17,000 Edition models have status symbol price tags but certainly won’t have the longevity of a traditional fine timepiece because of their electronics-based roots. “Unlike a Rolex that you buy and that lasts for your whole life, and gets passed on to your children, this is a piece of electronics,” said Enderle. “It won’t have that lifespan. You’re paying $10,000 for something that basically has a 12-month use cycle. That’s a lot of money for a piece of status. It’s not really like jewelry.”
Angela McIntyre, a wearables analyst with Gartner, told eWEEK that with more than 300 million customers worldwide for iPhones in the last few years, Apple certainly won’t have trouble selling its new smartwatches, which must be used in conjunction with iPhones.
“The people who buy Apple products have a good cross-over with people who like to buy luxury items, and in particular, fancy watches,” said McIntyre. “That’s a lot of people who possibly fit into this category of people who would be willing to buy a luxury watch and would be willing to buy an Apple Watch.”
Traditional luxury watchmakers have not been taking the pending release of the Apple Watch lightly, and have been partnering with electronics companies to offer their own smartwatches, she said. “We’ll see more of that. [The Apple Watch] will fuel the smartwatch market this year.”