Follow the week.co.uk

Apple Watch UK release: reports of shortages 'exaggerated'

Contrary to sell-out rumours, Apple Watch goes on sale in selected stores at a starting price of £299

LAST UPDATED AT 09:42 ON Fri 24 Apr 2015

The Apple Watch will go on sale in a limited number of high-end fashion boutiques today, despite the company's earlier announcement that the device would not be available in-store at launch.

What that meant, it transpires, was that no watches would be sold in Apple Stores, but only in a series of upmarket specialist stores in a series of world cities.

The decision to launch the watch in boutique stores offers "further evidence of the smartwatch's positioning as a fashion accessory, as opposed to a tech gadget", the New York Times says. It also underlines the ready availability of the device, which many commentators had suggested could be sold-out for months after its initial launch.

In fact, Apple said on Wednesday that it had begun informing customers who ordered a watch online that they could expect to receive the product sooner than previously expected. 

Some analysts have speculated that Apple may have chosen to launch the device online rather than in-store to avoid the possibility that shorter queues would reveal that demand for the smartwatch was weaker than some of the company's other recent product launches.

But according to Daniel Ives from FBR Capital Markets, early sales suggest that the Apple Watch may yet turn out to be another hit for the California-based technology company.

"We are raising our Apple Watch shipment estimates for 2015 from 17 million units to 20 million units," Ives said. "We estimate sales of over two million units during the pre-sales phase alone, and believe watch revenues could contribute as much as 8 per cent of [Apple's] total revenue in 2017."

Another way the watch may contribute to Apple's revenues is by bringing Android customers into the Apple ecosystem of mobile phones, tablets, music and apps. 

Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, told the BBC that according to her company's surveys, "20 per cent of UK Android users and 67 per cent of French Android users would consider changing from Google's operating system to Apple's to buy the smartwatch of choice".

So is the Apple Watch a revolution that will change the way we interact with technology or just another screen to add to our collection of disposable devices?

Early reviewers' verdicts are in, and they're certainly not celebratory.

In trying to sum up his feelings about the Apple Watch, Nilay Patel, editor of The Verge, said the first-generation device suffers from attempting to be all things to all people. "There's no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today," Patel said in his comprehensive review. "It is one of the most ambitious products I've ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well."

Other reviewers are kinder, delivering their evaluations with the kind of hushed reverence to which Apple has become accustomed ahead of each product launch. Farhad Manjoo said in The New York Times: "It took three days – three long, often confusing and frustrating days – for me to fall for the Apple Watch. But once I fell, I fell hard."

So what are the smartwatch's greatest strengths and where are its weaknesses?

Form

Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior vice president of design, reportedly spent four years designing the Apple Watch, refining its technology, and working on its many customisable options. Most reviewers agree the Watch looks good and offers a plethora of different bands, materials and faces.

Patel describes the Watch as "quintessentially Apple". When you see it in the flesh, he said, it is rounder than you might expect and looks most like a first-generation iPhone. "It is unbelievably high tech and a little bit silly, a masterpiece of engineering with a Mickey Mouse face."

Manjoo agrees: "Though it looks quite smart, with a selection of stylish leather and metallic bands that make for a sharp departure from most wearable devices, the Apple Watch works like a first-generation device, with all the limitations and flaws you'd expect of brand-new technology."

Function

Surprisingly for an Apple sanctioned release, many early reviewers report the Watch can be slow and even "glitchy". Apps take too long to load, "if they load at all", said Wired

The Daily Telegraph's head of technology, Matt Warman, said it is easily the best smartwatch on the market. "It's the first where I've consciously really wanted to make sure I'm always wearing it and that the battery doesn't run out," he said.

Geoffrey A Fowler, personal tech columnist of the Wall Street Journal, agreed. "With the Apple Watch, smartwatches finally make sense," he wrote. "The measure of their success shouldn't be how well they suck you in, but how efficiently they help you get things done. Living on your arm is part of that efficiency – as a convenient display, but also a way to measure your heart rate or pay at a cash register. This is a big idea about how we use technology, the kind of idea we expect from Apple."

Apple Watch apps

Many reviewers say that the lack of apps available at launch is a puzzling oversight. Fowler calls it "the biggest disappointment of my Apple Watch experience".

Apple says that more than 1,000 Watch apps have been submitted, but to date fewer than 50 of those have been made available to reviewers to test.

Should you buy the first Apple Watch?

Wired speculates that even as Apple is preparing its massive launch for the Watch, it is probably also already working on its successor – the Apple Watch 2. But the California-based tech company still needs the first iteration to be a success. "If consumers don't want the Watch, recouping that investment of time, money, and manpower will be for tough. While Apple may be working on other prototypes, it would need another consumer-ready design to which it could quickly pivot to shore up its losses," the publication says. 

Conclusion

Joshua Topolsky, editor of Bloomberg Digital, said the Apple Watch is not perfect, but it is the best option available for anyone who is already convinced they need to have a smartwatch.

"The watch is not life-changing," he said. "It is, however, excellent. Apple will sell millions of these devices, and many people will love and obsess over them. It is a wonderful component of a big ecosystem that the company has carefully built over many years. It is more seamless and simple than any of its counterparts in the marketplace. It is, without question, the best smartwatch in the world."

Apple Watch prepares for massive launch in April

30 March

Apple is gearing up for a massive retail campaign to coincide with the launch of its first new product of the post-Steve Jobs era, including dedicated stores, a huge infrastructure rollout and the arrival of a high-profile retail chief.

Analysts are divided over whether the Apple Watch, which goes on sale on 10 April, will be a hit with consumers, but the company has prepared a wide-ranging plan to make sure the new device is a success. The smartwatch, which retails at £299 and spirals up to £13,500 for a luxury version in 18-carat gold, offers users everything from email notifications to health monitoring. It can also make phone calls, help users keep track of their calendar and sync with map software to provide directions.

Dedicated Apple Watch stores

Apple currently has 453 retail outlets worldwide and is rumoured to be building new locations in high-end department stores around the globe. Earlier this month, Apple Insider spotted a dedicated shop being built in Tokyo's trendy Isetan department store. The shop is located near luxury brands that include Boucheron, Chaumet, Mauboussin and Tiffany's.

Trusted Reviews suggests that other outlets will follow in Paris's Galeries Lafayette and the USA's Nordstrom.

New retail chief

Last year, Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of luxury brand Burberry Group, to help coordinate its Apple Watch launch from a retail perspective, Computer World reports.

Reports suggest that Ahrendts was offered a compensation package of $73.4 million for 2014 – a huge sum, but a tiny fraction of Apple's total investment in its first foray into wearable tech.

In-store try-on sessions

Apple is reported to be introducing a new strategy for promoting the Watch in-store once it launches in April. Starting on 10 April, customers will be offered 15-minute try-on sessions in stores. 9to5Mac.com suggests that as of next month, 75 to 90 per cent of each store's retail staff will be dedicated to helping customers with the Apple Watch. Four zones will be created in each store to help sell the watches, one offering hands-on trials, two for purchasing, and one dedicated to assisting customers with the gold Apple Watch Edition models.

'Magical' display case

Sales of the new Apple Watch will revolve around "magical display cases" where prospective customers will be able to browse the various models of the device and try them on.

According to 9to5Mac, the "user journey" will proceed as follows: you can make a "try-on appointment" either online or over the phone, or join a queue similar to the company’s Genius Bar walk-in system. When you arrive for your session, an Apple Watch specialist will take you to a specially designed table with a recessed, glass-topped cabinet, in which watches which will be giving what Apple describes as "a magical display" – a pre-programmed demo loop showing off the their main features. You can select two models to examine more closely, and will then be ushered into a "try-on area", before being offered additional accessories such as bands, Bluetooth headphones and chargers.

If you made an appointment, you can take home your chosen device immediately after purchase. Walk-in customers will have to reserve a watch and collect it later. At launch, Apple won't have enough stock for customers without reservations, 9to5mac reports.

If you are buying a premium Watch Edition model, the process will be more akin to buying an expensive Swiss watch, with longer, private appointments held in a dedicated part of the store.

Industry 'game changer'

According to Tim Bajarin, a leading industry analyst, the Apple Watch will be a "game changer" that will have a one- or two-year head start over its rivals because it will be "nearly impossible for watchmakers to replicate". 

Apple owns the hardware, software and services that make the Watch appealing, so unlike the early 1980s, when digital watches "flooded the scene (but) were easily copied" Apple will be able to sell a "unique" product.

"What Apple is ultimately bringing to the watch market is a redefinition of what a watch is," Bajarin says. "The watch folks use the term 'wrist computer.'"

Claims of production problems 'overblown'

Rumours of production issues ahead of the launch of the Watch have been exaggerated, a source told Apple Insider. There may be some initial supply problems, the source said, but Apple's management is prepared for them and expect that they will be relatively easily overcome.

Blast-proof safes

Apple has massively boosted its security to help protect against theft of the valuable devices, some of which are made of 18-carat gold. "It stands to reason that Apple has taken all kinds of other steps to ensure the security of the watches," Computer World notes. "After all, 100 of the cheapest gold models of the Apple Watch would have a collective retail value of $1 million".

 

Apple Watch price: will anyone pay £13,500 for high-tech timepiece?

10 March

After years of anticipation, Apple finally unveiled its high-tech smartwatch in California last night. The device, which comes billed as "the most advanced timepiece ever", has a battery life of just 18 hours.

It comes in 22 variants, from the smaller Watch Sport, which starts at £299 to the top end 18-carat gold Watch Edition model which costs a hefty £13,500.

The Apple Watch's price varies wildly according to which materials, face size and strap a customer chooses. The 38mm (1.5in) version of the device will be cheaper than the larger 42mm (1.7in) models, which will cost about $50 more than the lower-priced devices. So will anyone want to buy the top-end model?

"It feels a little pricey," Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner, told The Times. "But they will sell a whole bunch. They will sell millions to their fans in the first few months but we will have to see if real demand emerges after that. Whether that will happen depends on whether the apps for Watch are seriously compelling to the average person."

A range of apps were launched alongside the new device, including Todoist, an easy to use to-do list app; Shazam, an extension of the music identifying phone app; Uber, the taxi app that now allows you to watch your taxi arrive on your wrist; and new Watch-based offerings from Nike, Instagram, The Guardian and more.

The apps that were shown were good, Van Baker said, but there was no "killer".

The Apple Watch is equipped to monitor your health, and can be used as a phone and tapped at tills to make purchases, but some Apple Watchers suggest that there is no groundbreaking function to help drive sales that cannot be performed by other devices.

Nevertheless the Apple Watch is likely to sell at least 10 million and possibly as many as 20 million units this year, Forbes says. This "reveals anew the company's unsurpassed ability to gain interest for a product that people don't really know what to do with yet".

According to the US market research company Forrester, there is an appetite for a device that is easier to check than a mobile phone. Forrester's research has shown that 40 per cent of adults in the US "prefer not to keep pulling their phones out", and as many as half of mobile interactions involve a quick notification, such as a photo or a news update that requires only a glance.

Still, the move towards tiered pricing represents a new direction for Apple, argues Fusion's Kevin Roose. Up until now Apple devices have offered a uniform level of luxury that was exactly the same for middle-class buyers as it was for celebrities and multimillionaires. The graded pricing for Apple's watches is a "historic change" for the Californian tech company, with some products all but out of reach of the average buyer.

Being an iPhone customer has never been a cheap proposition, Roose notes, but neither were Apple products ever true luxuries. "The iPhone's leveling effect produced an incredibly profound vision of social equivalence". Now, however, "It's possible that the mere presence of $10,000 or $15,000 Apple Watches on the street … will be a psychological disturbance to people who are stuck wearing their $349 Sport editions. It's also possible that, as they say in marketing, these customers will feel 'distanced from the brand' in a way that comes back to bite Apple down the road".

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 8 issues for £1.

Read next

North Korea missiles
North Korea's nuclear arsenal 'has been underestimated'