…Time will tell…
As we begin 2015 — the year Apple has promised to release the Apple Watch it showed last September — there’s a somewhat comical debate underway in the media: how big of a success will the Watch actually be?
Although I’m not personally planning to buy an Apple Watch, three decades of using Apple products and over a decade of reviewing them have taught me that Apple now has only three types of launches: gigantic hits, hits, and near-hits. And those phrases are all relative.
Two of Apple’s “least popular” product families, the Apple TV and iPod, have sold in quantities most companies would kill for. These are devices that haven’t been meaningfully updated in several years, and many people have called the iPod “dead,” despite sales of 14 million units in the past year. Even as a semi-successful “hobby,” the Apple TV reached around 10 million customers in the last year, a larger group of users than the typical company can achieve in a whole lineup.
So it’s hard to call any modern Apple product a “flop,” but it’s also true that a few of its major releases — most notably the Apple TV — were particularly close to being misses in their first generations, requiring major price and/or feature changes before succeeding in the next generation. Where will the Apple Watch fit in Apple’s history? Today alone, we’ve seen predictions ranging from “2015 is the year of the Apple Watch” and “could change the way people live” to a somber prediction that it won’t be “the homerun product that iPod, iPhone, and iPad have been.” Similar opinions have been circulating for months.
After reading both dire and overenthusiastic predictions, as well as measuring demand several months out from the release, my belief is somewhere in the middle: the Apple Watch will do better in its first year than the first-generation Apple TV, falling somewhere between the first-generation iPhone (6.1 million units, below Apple’s target of 10 million) and the original iPad (14.8 million units, wildly surpassing most estimates). The iPhone is huge now, but it wasn’t a “gigantic hit” in its first year, while the iPad roared out of the gate and has stayed pretty strong since then. Below, I’ll explain why I think the Apple Watch will wind up between them.
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