The wearable tech market has suffered a volatile few months. After years of hype, the Google Glass consumer launch was shelved in January, rocking confidence in the future of the sector.
But fast forward three months and hopes are high that Apple can revitalise the sector with its smartwatch.
Despite mixed reviews of the Apple Watch reports are already pouring in that variations of the device are selling out in record time.
Apple has always had more than its fair share of early adopters, who are disparagingly dubbed ‘fan boys’, but it appears the Apple Watch is already on the cusp of going mainstream.
Disruptive technologies analyst at Forrester James McQuivey argues the Apple Watch has already proved a tipping point for the sector and believes it will sell 10 million units in its first year. But he adds the momentum must be maintained.
“Even selling 10 million will not be a success for Apple if it does not sell 20 million in the next year,” says McQuivey. “It is, however, a great success for this industry.”
The smartwatch sector has failed to grab the public’s imaginations until now. Despite electronics giants Sony, Samsung and LG entering the sector, the biggest success so far has been the Pebble, which began life as a Kickstarter crowdfunded project.
McQuivey estimates the hype generated by Apple will add an additional 1 million unit sales to the next generation Pebble watch.
Reviews have been mixed for the Apple Watch and McQuivey is reserving judgement on whether the Apple Watch will prove a “smash hit”.
“However, what you know about Apple is version two is going to be much better than version one,” says McQuivey. “The iPod did not get to its first million until two years after it went on sale.”
McQuivey says sales will be driven by the cheapest version of the Apple Watch, which retails at £299 and is significantly cheaper than the launch price of the iPod, which would be about £375 in today’s money.
Shifting 10 million units in the first year would make the Apple Watch the fastest-selling device launch in history and is emblematic of a new consumer trend.
“Apple package things up well, it is a beautiful device, early indications show people enjoy wearing it and more importantly women will enjoy wearing it”
Carl Uminski, Somo
“We call this hyper adoption – where the consumer is ready to adopt at a rate that we have never seen before,” says McQuivey. “They are adopting four or five devices simultaneously.”
Another advantage of the Apple Watch is it has been designed to appeal to both men and women whereas other smartwatches have failed to do so, according to Somo chief operating officer and co-founder Carl Uminski.
“Apple package things up well, it is a beautiful device, early indications show people enjoy wearing it and more importantly women will enjoy wearing it,” says Uminski.
Uminski argues the only company to have embraced women so far in the wearable space is Tory Burch, which has managed to make wearable technology cool for women.
Apple has added an extra veneer of cool to the launch by instilling an air of exclusivity by only stocking the Apple Watch at its own stores and a handful of other retailers including Selfridges and Galeries Lafayette.
As well as holding its smart watch back from retailers including Dixons Carphone, shoppers had to book an appointment at their local Apple store to pre order the device. However, in a break with tradition, Apple encouraged shoppers to buy watch online, rather than queue round the block for the device.
“To provide the best experience and selection to as many customers as we can, we will be taking orders for Apple Watch exclusively online during the initial launch period,” said Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores Angela Ahrendts.
Boost for watches
The advent of the Apple Watch will result in a big shift towards smart tech in the traditional watches sector, according to Uminski. But he adds that it could be a short-lived product category as other forms of wearable tech take over.
“I think old school classic watches will now become smarter,” says Uminski. “But I think in the future wearable technology will become something you don’t see so much, at the moment it is very visible.”
Uminski says that wearable tech will become invisible by being incorporated into clothes.
If the Apple Watch is set to boost more sales of traditional time pieces, will the device have a halo effect on other wearable tech?
Not yet, according to McQuivey. “We are going to have to wait for someone to connect the dots between these devices,” he says. “Technically it is possible right now – it is the services that connect those that have to be stitched together.”
Companies are already making strides to connect the dots with Apple’s Siri service and Microsoft’s Cortana as the tech sector moves towards what McQuivey dubs a “wearable all-body network”.
McQuivey says it will take five or six years before a network of wearable tech devices is truly connected.
The launch of the Apple Watch has so far lived up to the hype, proving wearable tech is no flash in the pan. Retailers should take notice.