Is there a market for Smartwatches? Can Apple create one?

Stikkee 3 - Apple Watch

Okay, it’s been a week since the Apple Watch was announced, and do you know what the world’s most popular wearable is likely to be for 2014/2015?

It’s not the iWatch, but the iPhone 6, which is breaking the pre-sales records of the iPhone 5.

No, it’s not an iWatch. Don’t you dare call it that!

We’re Apple and we’ve decided that it’s far too sophisticated and exclusive to be an iWatch.

Oh, and we’ve also decided that you must own at least an iPhone 5 to be privileged enough to wear an Apple Watch.

Okay, so instantly Apple has reduced the potential market size for the Apple Watch from 6 Billion people to about 100 million people (based on statisticbrain’s numbers).

Now, layer on top of this the fact that in a YPulse survey of millenials, only 32% stated that they wear a watch regularly.

$96 million of smartwatches were sold between October and July according to CNet at an average price of $189 (and dropping fast) – often bundled with a phone – and with Samsung wrapping up 78% of the market. If you do the math, that’s just over 500,000 units, less than 1% of the likely iPhone 5 sales over the same period.

The Apple Watch starts at $349.

But wait, we’re not done yet.

Consider that Samsung has become a faster, nimbler innovator in some ways than Apple and are shipping a new version of their smartwatch next month, up to six months before the Apple Watch is expected to be available – oh, and you’ll be able to use their new watch to make phone calls and run lots of wellness apps (including some from Nike). Plus Samsung will probably launch an even more capable version shortly after the Apple Watch starts shipping.

Apple’s already playing catchup in the smartphone market and they haven’t even shipped their first unit.

So if Apple is entering a small market with a declining average unit price against a more nimble competitor, what rabbit do they have up their sleeve to grow the market and increase their stock price?

What will make the Apple Watch a must have?

The iPod was a must have because it allowed you to carry your entire music library around with you after easily organizing it on your PC and syncing it to the iPod. After that you could then easily navigate thousands of songs on the device with the handy click wheel.

The iPhone was a must have because it became the world’s most widely adopted personal, wearable computer. The iPhone disrupted the balance of power in the mobile phone industry and allowed device makers to start offering whatever applications they wanted (unencumbered by the carriers). The iPhone also disrupted the digital camera market, the Flip (super portable, simple video cameras), and the dedicated GPS market.

Other wearables are on the decline.

iPod sales in Q4 2013 were down 52% from Q4 2012.

Google Glasses got a lot of buzz early on, but interest has fizzled.

Fitbits and Nike Fuelbands have lost their luster and momentum.

Even the iPad, which became a must have after Apple solved the Value Translation riddle and properly highlighted its benefits as a more relaxing and accessible computing device, has seen sales fall the past two quarters as the large screen phones have started to become big enough to begin decreasing the need for a separate tablet. If you’re keeping score the iPad disrupted the gaming industry and challenged people to think deeply about their computing device preferences.

Now back to the Apple Watch…

Can a smartwatch really unseat the mother of all wearables, the smartphone?

In an era of declining interest in watches, can Apple change people’s behavior and lead a resurgence in watch wearing?

These are all very tough questions, but they are not tough challenges that Apple hasn’t faced before.

It’s easy to forget that the iPod didn’t become a runaway success until two years after its launch (with the launch of the PC version of iTunes), and that it took a year for Apple to really ramp up sales of the iPhone (after the launch of the App Store), or that Apple got killed in the press after the announcement of the iPad but figured out how to translate its value by the time they started shipping it.

So, is Apple up to the challenge this time?

After their recent string of game-changing innovations the pressure is on!

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About Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, helps companies build innovation cultures and infrastructures, and plan organizational changes that are more human and less overwhelming. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.
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