Launch Sequence

Even in the early stages, the Apple Watch has made an impact.

A familiar scene at previous Apple launches: exterior shots of Apple stores with devotees lined up hundreds deep for a chance to hold the next revolutionary product. But when the Apple Watch launched on April 24, there was no such occurrence. The technology company opted not to sell its newest device in stores. Instead, early adopters patently waited at home or work (in between anticipatory social media posts) for their Watches to be delivered.

At least that’s what happened for some. A week after the launch, it was clear that a large majority of people who had pre-ordered the watch (about 80%, according to one estimate) were still waiting. Whether a faulty part was to blame (as reported by the Wall Street Journal) or simply a repeat of previous Apple launches where demand far outstripped supply, the presence of the Watch in public has been limited.

And yet, it’s clear that the Apple Watch has left a mark. Though Apple has remained mum on sales figures, one forecaster pegged global preorders at 2.3 million units – figures that would make Apple Watch easily the most-sold smart watch. (By contrast, a total of 720,000 AndroidWear devices from multiple manufacturers were sold last year.)

“I definitely think it’s already made an impact, as far as making wearables o.k. for the masses, and making them interesting and a fashion [item],” says Dan Ward, co-founder of Detroit Labs, which creates apps for brands.

It’s no surprise that loyal brand devotees would snap up the device. Apple’s aim is to reward that enthusiasm by going where no smart watch has gone before. It has already delivered an extensive ecosystem of apps (over 3,500 at last count) and placed a bulk of its marketing focus on the watch’s variety of uses. Dan Ledger, principal for mobile technology consulting firm Endeavour Partners, commends the company for making functionality part of the consumer dialog.

What Apple has done is really elevated the story,” Ledger says.“They’ve created a story around brand, utility, use cases and more. So there is a lot of hope.”

Will that hope be realized? That remains to be seen. Reviews have been generally complementary but also highlight the early challenges confronting the Watch, particularly as it tries to be something more than iPhone Lite. Dr. Fareena Sultan, professor of marketing at Northeastern University, says the watch’s greatest impact – perhaps as an on-the-go controller of various household connected devices – has yet to be realized.“Till such time,” she says,“the Apple Watch may just be another new beautifully designed fashion statement rather than a necessary consumer electronic device.”

That certainly won’t be ideal for Apple, but it speaks to Apple’s attempts to position the Watch as a fashion piece – something that no other large-scale wearable device has successfully achieved yet. That will attract buyers beyond the typical technology crowd. Those people, say Ward, will be thrilled with the notion of a watch that does other things, and won’t become jaded by any first-generation growing pains.“It’ll be such a desirable product,” Ward says,“that people are not going to care.” – C.J. Mittica is the editor of Wearables. Contact him at cmittica@asicentral.com and follow him on Twitter at @CJ_Wearables.

Upon Further Review

The Apple Watch has garnered much praise. A must-have item? The answer varies.

“The Apple Watch is the most ambitious, well-constructed smartwatch ever seen, but first-gen shortfalls make it feel more like a fashionable toy than a necessary tool.” – CNET.com

“During the course of my experience with Apple Watch, it’s become apparent that I won’t go back to life without one.” – TechCrunch.com

“I definitely enjoyed my time with the Apple Watch, but I still don’t think it’s a replacement for my trusty old Timex. After all, the $699 model of the watch I reviewed is the same version I would want to buy, and I just can’t see myself spending that much for what is essentially a very cool iPhone accessory.” – PCMag.com