April 2015
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Day April 6, 2015

How will we measure Apple’s Watch success?

It won’t be easy. The company will not be reporting the Watch segment revenues or (presumably) unit sales and therefore we won’t have an accurate unadulterated view of the business. In addition, the large number of products in the mix and wide price variance means that it will be difficult for analysts to determine demand and price.

There is a hidden benefit to not having this data. All data is a creation and it tends to lead thinking in directions led by whatever is being measured (and whoever chose those measures and their motives). And yet without data there is no evidence and no credibility. In other words: You can’t manage without measurement but you can’t be sure what to measure.

The analyst is then faced with a requirement to have good taste or at least judgement about what to measure. This judgement is based on experience and good theory. Given that, what could we measure to determine whether the Apple Watch will be a success?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Language. Measure whether “Watch” will come to mean “Apple Watch”. “Phone” has come to mean not only “smartphone” but also all mobile/cellular phones and not just things used for calling but things used for all manner of information. This is a great test because the theft of semantics can only be accomplished through a degree of ubiquity of influential mindshare. Incidentally, the brand may well have been designed to do just that.[1]
  2. A measurable and significant reduction in the use of the iPhone. The Watch peels off uses from the iPhone and therefore the more it peels off, the less remains. However, that which remains will be more uniquely valuable to the incumbent. This is the process of carving and erosion that the PC experienced vs. mobile devices in general.
  3. An increase in the mix of large-screen iPhones. As iPhones are removed from pockets more rarely, the larger version might be more comfortable to carry and more useful to use for the immersive tasks that are outside the scope of Watch.
  4. An overall increase in iPhone sales beyond the foreseeable trajectory. This would suggest switchers from Android would be drawn to the platform purely for the value of the “accessory”. Note that this is not inconsistent with the lower usage and higher spec mix measurements.
  5. Apps uniquely targeting the Watch. It’s hard to imagine how this will develop as it involves millions of creative minds, but as smartphones created new economic value through the solving of new jobs to be done, the Watch should do the same. As a side-effect it should lead to new empires (or at least Unicorns) being formed around Watch use.
  6. Iteration. How quickly and deeply will the product be improved? Basic accessories like headphones and Apple TV have a leisurely update cycle. Smarter devices are faster. The cycle time of iteration should indicate how seriously Apple takes the platform and that itself should be fueled by positive consumer sentiment for the product.

These indicators are vague and the data will be weakly signaled but in many ways it will be more meaningful than any financial performance figures.

  1. It leaves open the question as to what watches as currently defined will come to be known as. []