Apple Watch can’t fail. Can. Not. Fail.
It could bomb, it could flop, it could be relegated to the quarterly “Other” category for the rest of its maybe-short life, but it can’t fail. Not when it comes to Apple and the Big Picture, at least.
There are several different individual contingencies that make up this reality, and they’re each compelling enough. I’ve written about the lot of them before, but it’s come to my attention that most readers gloss over the good bits when an essay is a meandering thousand words or more. So, bullet points!
The way I see it, here are Apple Watch’s possible outcomes, in order of likelihood from most to least:
- Apple Watch is Apple’s number three (or four) product
This is the most likely outcome, and it’s one that sees Apple Watch slowly building its momentum, capabilities, and user base over the next few years just like iPod and iPad did before. I doubt it matches the total lifetime numbers of either (unless iPod is actually discontinued, which shouldn’t happen), but it could eclipse iPod contemporarily and settle in behind iPad figures as a bona fide moneymaker and category definer like its forebears. Apple will be satisfied to move 15-20 million units per year once everything’s rolling smoothly. If Apple releases a new iPod, however, Apple Music could help repopularize the line and put it ahead of Apple Watch’s pace, pushing the wearable to fourth place overall.
- Apple Watch is the next Apple TV
If sales stagnate and the fashion angle backfires, Apple Watch might only move 5-10 million units annually. It’ll have a long update cycle, and it’ll eventually be relegated to yearly rumors with yearly letdowns when the new one is delayed or, for whatever other reason, doesn’t launch when everyone expects it to. It will be a mainstream afterthought to help round out the Apple ecosystem. (Disclaimer: I know Apple TV may very well be retooled into an extremely compelling entertainment/gaming device in the near future. This Apple Watch outcome should not then be viewed as analogous to such a resurrection.)
- Apple Watch becomes the standard fitness wearable
Its heart rate sensor is more than adequate, and even should apps and alerts and all its other goodies not take off, Apple Watch could be scaled back to Sport alone and dominate the wearables category as a dedicated fitness device. It ought to do this anyways (minus the scaling back, of course), but on the off chance that poor sales force Apple’s hand, this is a viable “out” that keeps the product very much “in.”
- Apple Watch redefines the home medical industry
This is the dream. If Apple gets its rear sensor up to snuff to the point where it can track meaningful health trends (glucose levels, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, arrhythmias, circulatory disruptions, BAC, nitrogen levels, seizure warnings, etc.) and can somehow work with or around the meddlesome FDA, Apple Watch will be a must-have for every health-conscious patient and pre-patient on the planet. Apple would find its product-moving subsidizer — the health insurance industry! — and make its mark in the most profitable consumer market in the United States, blowing it up like iPhone did telecom several years ago. This makes Apple a trillion-dollar company overnight.
- Apple Watch is discontinued sooner than expected
This is a remote possibility, and while you might think this contradicts my post’s premise, you’d be wrong. What happens if Apple Watch is a wipe out? Wearables die. All of them. Forever (or, at the very least, for a very long time). Apple will have effectively forced the entire tech world to double down on the smartphone, where iPhone is the gold standard (and growing). Since the purpose of Apple Watch is to help iPhone keep that lead, it might do as much for the handset in cancellation as it would in steady sales. That’s a win for Apple. Additionally, Apple Watch will have been a valuable testing platform for technologies like Force Touch and the Taptic Engine, allowing Apple to iron out all the bad-PR kinks before dropping 90 million supremely awesome iPhone 7s on an eager international community of consumers. A problem on Apple Watch is NBD, but a problem on iPhone is OMG. OMFG, in fact.
- Apple Watch surpasses iPad in popularity
This is utterly unlikely, particularly with heavily anticipated refreshes coming soon (possibly including the sure-to-sell-gangbusters iPad Pro).
- Apple Watch is the next iPhone
This is impossible.
So that’s my take: Apple Watch can’t fail.
And Apple can’t lose.