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Mark Wilson Doubles Down

Mark Wilson Doubles Down

July 9, 2015

You knew it was coming, and today — after half a week of doom and gloom — Fast Company’s Mark Wilson finally updated his pre-launch Apple Watch flop predictions with what he believes is a big fat underscore to his earlier claims. It’s an interesting read, but it’s disingenuous in a few key ways. Here are some of the dubious and intellectually contradictory points Wilson makes in his follow-up:

Apple may have already crushed small time smartwatch companies like Pebble, but the Watch has failed to disrupt the larger wearable marketplace.

Imagine if months after the iPad release, we learned it still hadn’t outsold some model of Windows tablet.

Wilson says that because FitBit is still outpacing Apple Watch, that’s somehow indicative of the iPad scenario above. But FitBit doesn’t make a smartwatch, and Apple Watch is outselling — by a wide margin — all other smartwatches ever made. That lines up precisely with what iPad did: It outsold all other tablets ever made, Windows and otherwise. The comparison is willfully misleading. It’s a false equivalency.

Will the Apple Watch recover, and sell 100 million units in two years, like the iPad, or three years, like the iPhone? There’s still time—but not at these rates. (Which, to be fair, are projections based on email receipts hoovered up by Slice, not from Apple itself.) Even with generous rounding errors, the Watch has failed to become the status quo object in wearables. And for Apple, that’s a flop.

Those enormous sales benchmarks dont constitute recovery, as they dont constitute any semblance of Apple’s actual goals to begin with. Sure, there are pundits who want to believe the wearable will be a massive blockbuster (I work with some of them), but whether or not a product is a flop depends as much or more on the manufacturer’s intentions as it does the customer response. Breakout hits are often unplanned as such, and the reverse is also true. But in this case, Apple never expected Apple Watch to move that kind of volume, and the better metrics of “flop or not” will be manufactory support and longevity. If Apple makes enough money to keep making Apple Watch, it will be — by every financial definition ever — not a flop.

Further, Wilson qualifies “flop” with “for Apple,” and that’s a big distinction. It certainly makes shedding the label a much more difficult proposition for any new product out of Cupertino than it does any new product out of anywhere else on Earth. As far as failing to become the “status quo object in wearables,” Google Trends — a reasonably valid measure of consumer interest (albeit not necessarily immediate buying interest) — indicates otherwise (updated graph here). Apple Watch, without question, is the most known, researched, discussed, and identifiable wearable on the market, and it garners the most attention (good and bad) by far. Also, it’s only been two months. De facto standards usually take a bit longer to establish themselves. Nokia and RIM didn’t worry when iPhone was only eight weeks old.

Then, Wilson proceeds to explain how certain Apple Watch-wearing mega-celebrities like Drake and Beyonce and some old fashion maven have seemingly ditched the wearable, as if they each had some NFL-esque agreement to only be photographed in public wearing Apple kit. That’s silly and wildly unrepresentative of the real world, but Wilson may be right about one thing:

Waning celebrity support could mark a cooling cool factor. Not because there’s anything wrong with the Watch, but because Apple is not immune to fashion’s whim—and fashion’s whim is a lot faster than your two-year iPhone upgrade cycle. Maybe the Apple Watch had a moment of limelight, but now seems, if not tacky, at least pedestrian.

That’s possible. But those celebrities were wearing Apple Watch Edition models, and there’s really no comparing the fashion statement there with that conveyed by the lower two tiers of the device. The stainless standard line does approach the fashion realm with its many elegant Band options, but those combinations are far more affordable — and far less ostentatious — than any of Edition’s in every respect. Additionally, and much more importantly (particularly since we’re all still going off of Slice’s numbers, even allowing for the big margin of error they probably need), Apple Watch Sport comprises two-thirds of all Apple Watch sales. In the US. Remember, Edition (and a fair bit of the stainless) is explicitly marketed to international segments (Europe, Russia, China, etc.) where fashion and brand status mean a whole heck of a lot more than they seem to around these parts.

Then there’s that other model to consider. And I dont need to tell you that Apple Watch Sport is most definitely not a fashion statement. It’s the real Apple Watch, and it’s for the majority of potential customers who want everything watchOS does in a less expensive, lighter, and more durable package. The fashion angle, played up to a fault by Apple itself, really only applies to the most expensive standard combos and the Edition line. Sport is immune to the waxes and wanes of the fashion industry, because it is much more utilitarian in nature. It’s about as “fashionable” as the colorful iPod touch or iPhone 5C, but it delivers everything the full Apple Watch platform is (and will be) capable of.

Now, for something of Wilson’s I wholeheartedly cosign verbatim:

All of this culminates to the Apple Watch’s fundamental flaw: it’s a myopic masterpiece of industrial design, with microchips under curved glass held firm by Velcro-elegant magnetic clasps, so focused on fit and finish that it forgot about the software experience. And it’s the software experience that, ironically, could solve the disappointing UX, along with the stale problem of wearing the same old watch every day.

The good news is that all that’s fixable, and that fix — watchOS 2 — is coming in the very near term. The better news is that Back To School and Holiday Season are both right around the corner.

The bad news is that, despite there not really being any, the “flop” mongers will keep making headlines until Apple finally fesses up with Apple Watch’s actual numbers and projections. And the danger should Apple drag its feet there becomes when the prospective buyer decides, in the meantime, to pass on a device they might otherwise love because various news outlets won’t shut up about how big of a failure the thing really is.

Barring medical sensor breakthroughs within the next two or three years, Apple Watch will never be a mega hit. It will never be a blockbuster of iPad or iPod proportions. But it won’t be a flop, either, nor is it flopping now. There is no course correction needed, because the flagship leads the way. Apple Watch is the dinghy, and it’s in tow, lagging behind, right where it belongs.