It has a date — sort of. And it has a price — mostly. But less than three months before its release, the Apple Watch is still enigmatic in ways that the similarly pre-announced iPhone and iPad were not. Apple still hasn’t said more than one thing (“starting at $349”) about how the 34 different Watch models will be priced, and despite hiring a new team of sales executives from the fashion and watch worlds, no major changes are obvious at the Apple Stores where the watches will be sold.
What’s going to happen between now and April? 9to5Mac’s editorial team has been actively discussing the possibilities, and we’re ready to share our thinking with you today. Read on…
All that’s known for certain is that Apple Watch pricing will start at $349. It is assumed — and very likely true — that the aluminum and plastic Apple Watch Sport will be offered at that price, while the standard Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition collections will sell for more. What could impact prices?
Watch and Band Sizes. Apple will sell each Apple Watch in 38mm and 42mm sizes. The smaller version will definitely have a smaller screen and most likely a smaller battery — either 200mAh or 300mAh, as suggested by the photo above, submitted by a tipster — so if any Apple Watch is guaranteed to sell for $349, it’s the smallest one with the least expensive materials: the 38mm Apple Watch Sport. Apple could follow iPhone 6/6 Plus precedent and price the larger watches differently from the smaller ones, or it could keep both sizes at the same price point. Although each Watch will include one band, Apple could also have different prices for small- and large-sized wristbands when sold individually as add-on accessories: separate sizes exist, as shown below.
Equal prices are probably a better idea since the size differences are small, primarily gender-related, and likely to create unnecessary price confusion across so many models. And based on pricing for other smartwatches, Apple would be bucking industry trends by charging higher prices for people with larger wrists. However, in the fashion world, significantly smaller watches sometimes sell for lower prices. We’ll have to see which direction Apple decides to take here.
Materials. It is again assumed — and again very likely true — that the stainless steel Apple Watch will sell at a premium over the aluminum Apple Watch Sport, while the gold Apple Watch Edition will be significantly more expensive. Our editors think that the Sport will be $349 when bundled with any colored plastic band, while the steel Watch will range from $449 to $549 or perhaps $599 depending on the included band you choose. If the prices are higher than this, Apple’s going to have an even tougher time selling Apple Watches than some analysts are already predicting.
The gold Edition model is the subject of the most internal debate, with guesses ranging from $999 to $4,999 depending on whether Apple hopes to sell a lot or very few of them. One hint that the price will exceed $999 is the Apple Watch’s digital crown: note that it’s always silver on the Sport, two-toned with black on the standard Apple Watch, and offered in four (mostly) band-matching colors for Edition. Apple could easily have gone with all-gold or gold with a black center, but instead, there are multiple band-specific parts. Additionally, every band (even the plastic one) has special gold parts to match the Edition watch. It’s obvious that very little is being done simply with Edition.
Bands are also likely to stagger prices. Apple is selling four steel Watches with plastic bands, eight steel Watches with leather bands, and six steel Watches with metal bands. It didn’t go cheap on the designs: the leather bands all have fancy metal accents, and the metal bands include magnetic clasps or user-removable links. These details suggest Apple will price the leather and metal bands at premiums over generic alternatives, and charge more for Watches bundled with them (compared with the plastic bands). Given Apple’s history, a price range of $29 to $99 or $129 for bands wouldn’t be surprising.
Storage Capacity. Apple has confirmed that Apple Watches will have some storage space, and 9to5Mac has confirmed that photos, music, and apps can all be on the device. Apple might eventually sell different capacity versions of the Watch (say, 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB), but it’s unlikely to do this on day one within a given collection. That said, it could certainly sell Sport at a lower capacity than the steel Apple Watch, while the keepsake Edition is offered at a higher capacity, but don’t expect three capacities of Sport at different price points at the beginning.
Changes are already underfoot at Apple’s retail stores to adjust the sales experience somewhat for Apple Watch customers. Citing “new products and new customers on the horizon,” Apple is re-introducing Apple logo polo shirts for its employees. We have also learned from multiple sources that Apple is reducing the number of third-party accessories in stores, likely to make room for Apple Watch displays.
But even if Apple changes employee uniforms and makes space in its existing stores, the sheer number of customers and (frequently) limited square footage means that the Watch shopping experience won’t be like visiting a Colette boutique in Paris — at least, at most Apple Stores. It’s more likely that Apple will sell $349 to $599 Apple Watches pretty much like it has sold iPods, iPhones, and iPads at that price level.
What about gold Edition Watches, which are being pitched as fashion world-caliber luxury products? On one hand, they probably won’t sell for more than high-end Mac Pros, and Apple doesn’t treat those computers any differently than low-end Mac Minis or midrange iMacs. On the other hand, Apple hasn’t been hiring new executives and retail staff from the fashion and luxury worlds just for giggles. Apple is already the world’s most profitable retailer, so it arguably doesn’t need help making Tiffany- or Harrods-level money in its existing stores. If Apple’s not preparing to open standalone boutiques for its high-end wearables, it’s probably working on building a semi-exclusive network of third-party vendors to sell the Apple Watch.
We expect that every version of the Apple Watch will technically be available to pick up at any brick-and-mortar Apple Store, though it would not be surprising for the gold Edition to have some distinctive sales process — a brief ship-to-store delay before in-store pickup, a special customization/fitting/personal tutorial session, or perhaps an in-store gift-wrapping/fancy bagging option — to make the Edition buying experience a little twee. Depending on how Edition watches are boxed, there may be a need to swap one color of the digital crown to match a customer’s second band (see above); maybe not. But the lower Edition’s price is, the less likely a special selling process becomes, and the more surprising all of Apple’s fashion/watch industry hiring would be.
Apple doesn’t talk about unannounced products and rarely discusses discontinued ones. So how will it address the reality that the first-generation Apple Watch — including the expensive gold Edition — will quickly be followed by improved versions with different designs? Most luxury watches are designed to be worn for years; by contrast, the Apple Watch is inescapably a technology product with a limited lifespan, regardless of how it’s marketed. Just like iPhones, many early Apple Watch adopters will likely want a new model after a year or two, particularly if the first-generation version has significant battery life issues, or if later versions add useful sensors and other features.
It’s possible, actually likely, that Apple will leave customers to figure out their own upgrade strategies, even for the gold Edition. Although some people have speculated that the Edition’s 18K gold body will have some melt-down value, it’s hard to imagine anyone with enough money to buy an Apple Watch Edition taking one to be traded for cash at a gold-buying shop.
Some of our editors think Apple will find another path to keep first-generation gold watches in circulation. It could alternate each year between shapes or features, keeping the first-generation model distinctive even when second- and third-generation models debut. Another possibility is offering seasonal variations in either watch colors or bands; white gold, platinum, and other materials could be introduced. Apple could also deliberately limit the supply of Editions to keep them elusive and relatively hard to trade. It’s hard to imagine Apple following that path — it exists to produce mass-market technology products, not obscure collectibles — but perhaps its priorities are changing.
What Do You Think?
We think that it’s important for Apple to clarify the Apple Watch’s pricing, selling experience, and upgrade path, and over the next few months, there will certainly be answers — hopefully ones that will inspire millions of people to take the plunge rather than waiting for a future model. The choices Apple is making now will either lead to a successful launch with subsequent growth akin to the iPhone and iPad, or “hobby” status, like the Apple TV.
Now it’s your chance to speculate. How will Apple price all of the Apple Watch versions and bands? Will it change its sales strategy or keep it the same for all Apple Watch models? How will it address upgrades, if at all? Share your thoughts in the comments section below — we’d love to know what you think.