A Year Later, Is The Apple Watch A Success?

A year ago, Apple arrived in the wearable-technology market, and analysts widely expected a revolution. That didn’t exactly materialize. But did the Apple Watch succeed at what it was supposed to do?

When the Apple Watch first arrived, there was much surprise over how much Apple wanted. The cost could range up to $10,000 depending on the band and configuration you wanted. Nonetheless, at first, it appeared Apple had found the next iPhone. You couldn’t even buy an Apple Watch without an appointment. But as the reviews came in, and the hype died down, it quickly became clear that nobody was entirely certain what the Apple Watch was actually for, even if they were fans of the technology. Was it for notification junkies to manage their digital lives? Was it for joggers to go out without having to put a wallet somewhere on their person? Was it for people to accept phone calls whether they realized that was a function or not? And that, perhaps, has contributed to how it’s sold.

Apple has yet to release any hard figures about the Apple Watch, which isn’t a positive sign. Apple is rarely shy about offering up hard numbers when sales are good, but tends to avoid it when there’s even a slight chance that it might be construed as bad news for the company. Yet it appears Apple has achieved, yet again, what Apple is so good at: Opening up a niche market to a wider audience.

So far, the best estimates are that the Apple Watch has sold 12 million units, which would, if market prognostications are any guide, likely make it the number one smartwatch manufacturer in the world by a comfortable margin. Considering that owning an iPhone is a prerequisite to even being able to use the Apple Watch in the first place, it’s fairly clear that in terms of sales, at least, Apple has succeeded, especially since it needed to be tethered to an iPhone to work in the first place.

The question, of course, is whether Apple views it as an accessory to its best-selling product or as the key to a much larger industry. When the Apple Watch launched, it was clearly part and parcel with Apple’s bid to get into the mobile payments industry with Apple Pay. Apple was hoping a combination of Apple Pay, Touch ID, and the Apple Watch would mean you’d leave your wallet behind. And while Apple Pay has grown, it, and its competitors, are struggling to be anything more than a backup when you lose your wallet, or a convenience when you’re on a jog and want to buy a bottle of water. Apple is doing better than other mobile payment providers, but only 20 percent of people who can access the service are even bothering to set it up.

Much depends on the inevitable Apple Watch 2, which is likely arriving later this year. Rumor currently has it that while it can still sync with the iPhone, the next Apple Watch will stand alone. Making it a standalone product might allow Apple to crack open the wearables market by appealing to people who simply don’t want an iPhone, but might see the Apple Watch as a useful everyday tool, a technological Swiss Army knife on the wrist. Right now, one can view the Apple Watch as a qualified success, but if it manages to demonstrate it’s more than a tiny phone on your wrist, or Apple can find a problem it solves, it might be much more than that on its second anniversary.