Apple typically leaves the phone ringing when reporters call, so an instant rebuttal from the CEO is almost newsworthy in itself. Yesterday Tim Cook broke his monastic silence to respond to a report that Apple Watch sales were in a funk.
Nonsense, said Cook, who emailed the Reuters news agency to tell it that the Apple Watch's "sell-through" was at a record high. IDC thinks that Apple shipped just 1.1 million Watches in Q3 2016, down from 2.7 million in the previous quarter.
It’s perfectly possible, maybe even probable, that both Cook and IDC are correct.
Apple Watch 2 has only became available in volume over the past month. The range was stale, not having been refreshed since spring 2015 in the USA, and June in the UK. IDC only counted sales through to September 30. In addition, the watchOS 3 update in September brought about significant performance and usability improvements with it, taking away some of the reasons for first generation Watch owners to place an order for a second generation Watch. We’ll have to see Apple’s post-Christmas results to find out if waterproofing has made the Watch more attractive.
Indications of a slump have been evident all year. (See: Apple and Android wearables: What iceberg? It’s full steam ahead!)
IDC had already reported a 51 per cent decline in smartwatch sales in Q3. Anecdotally, as we watched the pattern of foot traffic in Apple Stores outside Central London, it was evident that Apple Store customers were giving the Watch a wide berth. Literally.
And it isn’t just you, Apple.
Last week, Lenovo announced it was not planning any more smartwatches – even when Google finally ships its delayed Wear platform update. Lenovo’s Motorola unit had invested heavily in Android Wear, and its Moto 360 was the best known of the first generation Wear watches in 2014. Huawei hasn’t updated the Huawei Watch unveiled 15 months ago, while Pebble has ceased daily operations and is no longer producing or selling smartwatches after activity tracker king Fitbit bought the business.
Gartner’s prestigious Department of the Bleeding Obvious, meanwhile, points out that “Wearable Devices Need to Be More Useful”. 29 per cent of smartwatches go unused after purchase – either from boredom or breakage.
Oddly, Gartner recommends that “wearable providers partner with companies that design, brand, market and distribute watches and fashion accessories because they have experience setting style trends, marketing lifestyle devices and have established retail channels.”
It's hard to see how branding a failed product can help very much, and doing so has consequences for the lifestyle brand itself.
“The wearables market is still looking for its bearings,” analyst outfit CCS Insights observes in a note issued today. “Lenovo could certainly re-enter the space in the future but its decision to exit for now comes as little surprise. Right now, full-touch smartwatches continue to risk being a solution looking for a problem.” ®