I think the tech world is suffering from what I’m going to call smartphone syndrome. The smartphone is the most important technological achievement of the past 20 years, and there is little doubt it will continue to thrive for the foreseeable future. The movement was kicked off in 2007 with the iPhone (don't you dare say that BlackBerries were actually the first modern smartphones) and has grown into a truly massive business The "post-PC world" is not about tablets, it's about smartphones.
And while the smartphone is great, it seems to be the new metric that all other tech categories are judged by. For example, the iPad has sold 47 million units in the past 12 months, which is great, but it's scraps compared to the 225 million iPhones they sold in the same period. Likewise, the Apple Watch is also suffering from criticism over its sales numbers, which are currently estimated to be a little over 12 million units in it's first year. Put another way, there were 20 iPhones sold for every Apple Watch that was sold last year.
But here's the thing, if you expect every product to be comparable to the smartphone, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. Speaking specifically about the Apple Watch, this is a completely unrealistic expectation.
When Apple unveiled the Apple Watch in September 2014, there were massive expectations set for the product. Part of this was on Apple, and part of it was on the media. Apple's sales pitch is always "we've made a product so amazing, everyone is going to want one," and this pitch makes sense for universal products like the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, but it doesn't make as much sense when you start talking about their more niche products. Apple is very proud of the Watch and they clearly want them to sell very well and be a cornerstone product in their lineup, but it is ultimately an accessory to the iPhone. It's a very nice accessory that can cost you more than your iPhone, but it's still a second player1.
There are rumors that the next Apple Watch will have a cellular connection to allow it some independence from the iPhone, but I still don't think we're anywhere near the smart watch taking the place of the smartphone. The Apple Watch is best when it is enhancing the functionality of your iPhone, and therefore will always live in the iPhone's massive shadow. Maybe smartwatch interfaces will evolve incredibly fast and I'll eat those words later, but I'm skeptical.
As a new product, the Apple Watch should not be judged based on its sales numbers relative to another product category, but by how well it does what it sets off to do. Does the Apple Watch improve my life? Yes. Does the Apple Watch have some major issues it needs to address to become truly great and appeal to a wider audience? Absolutely!
All this could be said about the original iPhone as well, and I think we look back on that first iPhone with rose-colored glasses and think that it was amazing from the start. But let's remember that the iPhone didn't have video or GPS, or even 3G in the first version. It was slow and all of its apps fit on one home screen. It was also riddled with bugs and was widely derided for being too expensive, and not worth it for most people. We can look at the highly refined iPhone 6S that we have today and think that the iPhone has always been like this, but this isn't how it came into the world.
So when you are thinking about the Apple Watch, think about it from a product perspective first and don't obsess to much over the raw sales numbers. The financial side is not that important right now unless you are an Apple employee or shareholder. That's what I've been focused on for the past year on this site, and all this other chatter about the Apple Watch's success/failure from a sales perspective is just a bunch of noise.
- The best the Apple Watch can currently hope to be is the Scottie Pippin to the iPhone’s Michael Jordan. ↩