With Apple you have to take rumors with a bit of salt because Apple historically used them to catch internal leaks, and folks love to make them up and spread them. However, the idea of an Apple Watch has merit given how many people used the last generation iPad Mini with a watch band carrier largely for exercise and instead of a watch. It seemed kind of strange for them to abandon the square form factor that fit so well in this role with the last revision given they would ether lose those customers to other products or they simply wouldn’t buy the newer offering. But if they were planning on creating a purpose designed product there would be a reason behind this apparent madness and the product could do a lot of damage to the digital exercise market just now getting off the ground.
Watches Are Dead
Actually this isn’t exactly true, the low end of the watch market is clearly on life support but if you look at the premium watch market it is doing just fine. In fact, there apparently is a huge market (huge being relative) for folks who want to buy watches that cost over $10K because these are used as status symbols. Granted mostly by affluent older men, but pick up any Robb’s Report and you will find it filled with incredibly expensive watches often drifting into the $100K range that folks continue buy in decent volumes. So premium, status focused, products are doing just fine and, ironically, Apple largely operates as a premium, status focused brand vendor.
The other part of the watch market that is improving is the part tied to exercise. Products like the FitBit (which is what my wife and I use) not only tell time, but they monitor the amount of activity you are doing and can be tied into programs that monitor what you eat to estimate whether you are losing or gaining weight/muscle on a real time basis. The problem with the class is there are a lot of vendors in this space, not a lot of consistency, and the products are limited to doing whatever they were initially designed to do. Or, putting it another way, their upgrade potential is limited by designed in limitations to the devices.
Apple has an App platform, their devices are fully instrumented with multiple sensors and their volumes allow them to get the parts far cheaper than anyone in this class. In effect, Apple could create an uber-device that could be upgraded to do everything all of these devices currently do collectively and yet still price the result within range of the more limited device.
I still see this as the primary market for the Apple Watch initially but it isn’t limited to this one space.
Wrist Entertainment vs. Phone
I think we anticipate kind of a wrist mounted iPod and that would likely surface much of what we would like to do with the device. On the wrist it frees up your hands, you could more easily manage your music and movies while moving, and you are far less likely to leave the thing behind if you are used to having it physically strapped to your wrist.
But how about phone function? Seeing an instant message, getting a call (granted with a headset), and even doing a little video conferencing from your wrist could be far more convenient that trying to pull the device out of your pocket or purse while walking. Granted there are size and battery life issues that would have to be addressed and any Web or game capabilities would be significantly hampered by the size of the screen, but the wrist might be a better place to control your phone.
Wrapping Up: iPhone Accessory
Apple wants you to buy at least one of every device they sell and that is why I doubt the watch will have a cellular radio in it. However, having it connect seamlessly to an iPhone to see caller IDs, manage the call, or provide message/phone mail arrival alerts, could be very compelling and folks would then be sure to buy both the Apple Watch and an iPhone.
So, for a lot of reasons, the Apple Watch could actually be very compelling though I think calling it an iWatch would be a mistake given the negative connotations surrounding watches. Maybe the iPod Fit would be a better name choice and focus on the initial primary function of the device. Whatever it is called, I think the Apple Watch could be a really interesting device, both achievable, and ground breaking.
I think I already want one.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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