The Apple Watch's success in the wearable sector is now a given, but, did you know that its history is chaotic and fascinating? Read this article to find out more about this timekeeping icon.
Back in 2015, the Apple Watch was, according to many, a flop. The debate raged on: is it luxury or is it functional? Sales hadn't taken off, and the Swiss watch industry mocked it. Now, the Apple Watch is a success. It's the best-selling smartwatch globally, with around 55% market share. Not only that, during 2020 and early 2021, it sold more units than the entire Swiss watch industry. So, what does this mean for the future of watches?
I'll be the first to say it: Apple gives us products we didn't know we needed. Look at the iPad: it came out, and people said, "wow." But, let's face it, no one remembered the Microsoft Tablet.
Did we need a device wedged between the computer and a smartphone? No, but we wanted one. A lot of this culture comes from Steve Jobs and his vision, regardless of what people think. From shoving thousands of songs in a portable device to creating the best smartphone, the company was at the forefront of technology. But did you know that the Apple Watch had a different story?
For one, it was the first new product since Jobs's passing. While iPhones, MacBooks, and iPods were constantly improving, the Apple Watch was a new idea. The idea was so recent that Apple employees weren't sure what the device would do. How about this for a business decision? An exclusive Wire article revealed that Apple first decided to create the Apple Watch. Then they debated on what it should do, besides telling time.
They did have some idea. For example, it had to go on the wrist because pocket smartwatches aren't cool anymore. And it had to solve something. Well, how about disrupting their most popular product? That's right. Smartphones were ruining our lives, and the iPhone was to blame. Every buzz means taking it out of your pocket or purse. So, the Apple Watch could take that away, giving you condensed information on your wrist. This way, you only checked the phone if it was critical.
Great! Now, Apple had to make it work. Taking an iPhone, shrinking it, and removing the unnecessary bits is as tricky as it sounds. So, Apple struggled. The first trials showed slow reaction times. For example, notifications took up to 30 seconds! Speaking of which, how would the Watch vibrate? If all the notifications came through the wrist, how would a call differ from a tweet?
Then came the screen. The iPhone's traditional font didn't read well, so they had to change it. Plus, it had to respond to swipes, even with massive fingers. Apple had to overcome all these challenges because one thing was clear. The new Watch couldn't be an iPhone with a velcro strap. That's not to say it wouldn't have Apple's essence. But, for it to make financial sense, the Watch drifted away from tradition. Instead, there would be more options like varied sizes, straps, and one ludicrous price range. As for this last one, in irony, designer Alan Dye admitted he got the idea from the Swiss watch industry. This comment sparked a debate.
Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch in September 2014, with sales starting in 2015. Immediately, it generated mixed reactions. First of all, it wasn't the first wearable, with competitors Fitbit and Garmin having years in the market. But it was unique. It looked great and came with more features than others.
As is traditions, Apple wasn't aiming for function, at least, not at first. Instead, the Apple Watch sought to be a fashion and luxury item. Sure, the cheapest option was $349, with an intermediate costing around $500, comparable to others in the market. But the most expensive version was $17,000. Why so expensive? Hey, it had gold. Plus, Beyoncé loved it, so that justifies it, I guess. The problem was that, though Alan Dye insisted they were different, the most expensive version wasn't that special. The world wasn't convinced. Right after the launch, the Swiss industry criticized it and wasn't worried about the possible competition.
Jean-Claude Biver, the CEO of Tag Heuer, said that any Apple Watch wouldn't last for 80 years, let alone 1,000 years.
"Can your children wear the Watch? No, because it won't work anymore. The technology will be gone."
Which, in the world of programmed obsolescence, it makes sense. Then there was usability. You had to have an iPhone, which made it exclusive. Perhaps, that's why the other half of the world loved it. Magazines like Time called it one of the best inventions of 2014.
Plus, it had beauty and personalization, which were crucial aspects in the luxury watch market. Not only the hefty price tag but also an array of straps and accessories. Plus, you could customize the digital screen and install your favorite apps to make it your own. In typical Apple fashion, the Watch divided the world. Some said it was luxury, and others didn't. Therein lies the problem: Apple wasn't a watch company. So, the plan backfired.
As with most, if not all, Apple products, the announcement came with much hype, but, upon its release, the Apple Watch met plenty of resistance. People didn't love it. It wasn't that easy to use, the battery didn't last long, and notifications sometimes failed to show up. Magazines like Fast Company even said that it was too perfect for the real world.
Apple made people's lives easier, and this device didn't. As a result, the media labeled it as a flop. And, for a moment, it seemed like they were right. Third-party data estimated that, since its launch, sales were down 90%. From April 2015 to July 2015, sales went from 35,000 to 5,000 and trending downward. Fitbit still dominated sales, and the hype was dying down. So, the Apple Watch was a flop. The world kept turning. The Swiss industry, one that had criticized the Apple Watch, kept selling its luxury devices. Everyone was over it. Everyone except Apple.
So, the Apple Watch failed to meet expectations. To solve this, Apple applied one significant and straightforward tweak. It was time to shed the "luxury" label. So when the Series 2 came out, there was no $17,000 option. Plus, it came with critical changes. First of all, people no longer needed an iPhone to use an Apple Watch. Then, it included GPS, water resistance, and improved health statistics and tracking. Plus, battery life improved, and a faster UI made the Apple Watch a worthy device. Apple didn't slow down with the improvements.
These were things ordinary people wanted. In no time, it was becoming a worthy competitor. By 2017, it led the wearables sector. But, not only that. The Apple Watch was the most popular globally, overtaking Rolex out of all brands in a twist of irony. So, the debate was back. Was it a luxury item?
The Apple Watch is very young. Even so, it has taken over the market by storm. In only four years, it had the Swiss industry that had so criticized it in its sights. In 2019 alone, the Apple Watch sold 31 million units. The entire Swiss industry sold 21 million. Also, the Apple Watch had 55% of the smartwatch market share. Even mechanical watch purists bought Apple Watches. After all, it was more versatile than other luxury items.
What's impressive about this is that Tim Cook has said that the wearable market is only beginning. Therein lies the question. It's not the only smartwatch out there. Though it has yet to prove its worth, Google's acquisition of Fitbit could mean a big boost. Samsung, Garmin, and rising competitors like Xiaomi could also make a run at Apple. And, what about the Swiss industry?
To say that the Apple Watch killed this sector is a bit farfetched. However, look at it from a historical point of view. The luxury watch industry has seen its fair share of technological challenges. Not long ago, mechanical watches had to give way to electronic and quartz components. The biggest Switch manufacturers included new quartz technology in the '70s and '80s and managed to survive. But it wasn't easy.
It took some convincing. The luxury watch industry has always prided itself on making things the "right way," but that doesn't always equate to the market's needs. Look at what they said less than a decade ago. Now, the Apple Watch dominates the market. And the Swiss watch industry still exists. To keep surviving, they need to embrace change and embrace it well. Let's face it: smartwatches and wearables are here to stay. Be it Apple or another brand. So it's now up to the Swiss to give us a luxury smartwatch that's worth the thousands.