Nimish SawantMar 09, 2015 17:55:29 IST
The Apple Watch launch is just a few hours away and although the smartwatch category has been around for quite a while, every geek will be looking forward to what Apple has to offer. Just to keep things in perspective, Apple Watch will be the first major product launch by Cupertino-tech giant since the iPad launch in 2010 and the first major product launch since Steve Jobs’ demise. We had got a glimpse of the Apple Watch last year at the iPad event and it received mixed responses.
Looking at the past, whenever Apple has entered into a new product segment that is already in existence, it has in a way redefined that segment. It happened for MP3 players with the launch of the iPod back in 2001, with smartphones when Apple released the iPhone in 2007 and with tablets after Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. With the Watch, will Apple repeat history?
Well the answer may not be as easy, considering we have seen some really good looking smartwatches over the last year and at the just concluded Mobile World Congress. On the list are LG Watch Urbane LTE and Huawei Watch - both of which look as premium as one can expect and which come with a traditional round watch design. But despite the multiple smartwatches available to users, if you look at pure sales numbers, they pale in comparison to smartphones.
According to Strategy Analytics, only 5 million smartwatches were sold worldwide last year, whereas around 74.6 million iPhones were sold in just the last quarter of 2014. People are clearly treading with caution as far as this category is concerned.
Another reason is the over dependence on your smartphone. As a companion device to the smartphone, the smartwatch is commanding quite a premium pricing. Apple Watch is expected to start from $349 onwards. Unlike an iPod or an iPad which catered to a specific need among the audience, the smartwatch is offering multiple functionalities which can be overwhelming to a lot of potential buyers.
Also Apple Watch still has many questions unanswered (maybe they were saved for the launch event today) specially over battery life. The Apple Watch will sport a colour display, will support Apple Pay, Apple Health kit and will have a heart-rate sensor - tasks which have a potential to drain the battery within a day. Some reports are already out suggesting that Apple Watch will not meet its required mixed usage battery life of 19 hours in the first generation variant. We will come to know more details on the battery life tonight.
If one looks at Apple's previous first generation products, it does not really paint a rosy picture. Let us look at some past products from the Apple stable, which created a lot of hype around their launch, but started picking up sales only with their succeeding generations.
This was a product that truly revolutionised the way we consume music. It also changed the game when it came to distribution of music and can easily be called as the single product category which led to the decline of audio CD sales. It spawned multiple categories within itself. But since September 2012, we haven't seen a new iPod in any form. For all practical purposes, the standalone MP3 player category is going the way of the entry-level compact digital cameras.
But the very first iPod launched back in October 2001 did not see massive sales. In fact, it was one bulky device with a proper FireWire port for transferring music, came with 5GB and 10GB capacities and had a mechanical scroll wheel to navigate through songs and folders of music. Also it was only compatible with Mac systems and was priced at a whopping $399 for 5GB of storage (this was still a huge capacity back then). Naturally, this limitation kept it confined just to the Apple enthusiasts.
We forget now how long it took for the iPod to work. Looked like a flop or a hobby for 4 years. pic.twitter.com/IVrAABlGf7
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) September 12, 2014
Sale for the iPod started picking up only when the Windows compatibility was added on, iTunes for Windows was released and Apple decided to diversify the iPod into various affordable segments such as iPod Nano, iPod Mini or iPod Shuffle. The chart above shows the sales of the iPods. The spike in 2004 was thanks to the release of the higher capacity iPod Classics as well as the first gen iPod Minis. If you want a more detailed chart, check this one out.
The first iPad was launched in January 2010. Before the iPad came on to the scene, we had seen prototypes from Microsoft, Samsung and others. But Apple was the first company to release a consumer tablet before anyone else. Apple did manage to sell close to 15 million iPads in the first year, but this was also due to the fact that its closest competitor, Samsung, came out with the Galaxy Tab six months after the iPad launch.
However, a quick look at this chart from Gartner research shows the volume of sales in the first year of the iPad and the succeeding years. 15 million seems like a small number, when you see the three-fold rise in sales in 2011, after the iPad 2, a thinner, lighter and more powerful tablet came along.
At 680 grams, the first iPad was bulky and was called by many as a large screen iPod Touch. Also due to its internal components such as the Apple A4 SoC with 256MB DDR RAM, it started exhibiting sluggish performance after it was updated to iOS 5 and support was discontinued after iOS 6 was released.
The iPad Mini, which had the Apple A5 SoC (first seen in iPad 2) was replaced in the succeeding generation by the iPad Mini with Retina Display - sporting the Apple A7 SoC and a high res display.
This is the marquee product of the Apple empire, specially if you look at the last five years. In fact, Apple broke all records when it announced a whopping profit of $18 billion, buoyed by a record 74.6 million iPhone sales in the fiscal quarter ending at December 27, 2014. While iPhone sales have known to come up with record numbers, the first generation iPhone did not get as much love.
Back in 2007, when the first generation iPhone was launched, it came in a 3.5-inch form factor, it lacked 3G connectivity, front-facing camera (although that wasn’t an era when selfie was even a word), GPS, digital compass and so on. The first gen iPhone was criticised for its EDGE only connectivity. There were also a lot of bugs, there were issues with Wifi connectivity, Apple logo screen of death and so on.
Also the App store wasn’t as expansive as it became over the years. It took 74 days for the iPhone first generation to sell 1 million devices, whereas the iPhone 3G took only three days to reach that mark, although it was sold in only 21 countries. But it still shows the caution people observed when going for the first generation Apple products. This chart will help you visualise how the iPhone sales took off only after iPhone 4 came on the scene.
Tim Cook will try hard to position the Apple Watch as the next best thing tonight. After the showcase last year and the discussions that have followed, there is certainly a lot of buzz around the product. Unlike the previous first generation launches, the Apple Watch has had solid lead time and comes with ample software backing. Between September last year to this day, Apple has had a lot of time on hand to add more finesse to the Watch.
We will have to await the answers to some important questions such as battery life, availability outside the US, confusion over the wireless/inductive charging standards, and so on. Moreover, as this Wired article points out, Apple Watch tries to do a little bit of everything. There are many other smartwatches on the market at the moment and so far there isn’t a single stand-out feature on the Apple Watch, barring Apple Pay, that hasn’t been seen on other smartwatches out there.
Looking at the information we have so far, it seems wise to wait out the first generation Apple Watch and invest instead in the succeeding generation - which will surely be thinner, more powerful and hopefully will give smartwatch buyers specific needs to fulfill.
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