July 2015
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Day July 13, 2015

Selling Watch Sales Data

There is no reliable information on Apple Watch sales. None of the analysts which follow Apple or the phone, computer or watch markets have any insight into this. The only source of information is Apple itself and they have made it clear that they don’t intend to provide watch sales data for competitive reasons. I did not and do not expect any information from Apple on watch sales. They have placed the product within the “Other” category specifically to make unit data hard to discern and have explained why they do so.

The only estimate we have heard of is from a company that has no track record in market research and relies entirely on sampling of email receipts. I urge extreme caution when dealing with this type of data. We don’t know how representative these receipts are and how they are sourced or sampled. The methodology is not only unclear but it’s one not practiced by any other analyst. You would think that receipt sampling would be a phenomenal source of information about a lot of other products and yet we hear nothing about how predictive it is for anything except this particular new product as claimed by a company which never made any such prior claims.

It’s also a sampling of (presumably) US-only customers at a time when the product is undergoing a gradual roll-out through multiple countries and multiple channels. Consider that if sales were constrained internationally then buyers would be trying to arbitrage through the US market, meaning there would be many e.g. Chinese buyers/brokers booking sales through US online stores inflating that channel’s initial volumes. Furthermore as physical retail stores begin to receive stock, online sales (which are what is sampled) should decline as buyers opt for the instant gratification (and the option to see the product in real life.) To see US-only online purchases drop after a period of pent-up demand and as store inventory becomes available is not interesting and says almost nothing about the product’s performance.

The only way to be thoughtful about this new category is to understand the broad transitions underway in mobile computing. We are witnessing a pivot in human-computer interaction as significant as the initial iPhone launch.

[As a rule, be very careful with the premise of data salesmanship. All data is false, some is useful. Data you have to pay for is less useful than data that has been peer reviewed.]

Breaking the Law

For the first time in many years I feel that there is some potential uncertainty in the results Apple will announce. After a period of excellent accuracy (shown in graph below), the company’s guidance has begun to diverge dramatically from reality and the trend might continue this quarter. The cause might be unanticipated demand for the iPhone 6/6 Plus. The growth rate for the product was 46% in Q4 and 40% in Q1. This is unanticipated because growth rates have been below 20% for five quarters and below 50% for eight.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.21.00 PM

This slowing of growth was explainable given the rate of diffusion of smartphones in the global population. Within the US and some other early adopting economies the market is reaching late stages where most people have switched to smartphones. Globally we are at a more modest 30% or so but in many of the late adopting economies Apple does not have wide distribution.

Of course this thesis is thinly supported. There are many reasons to think that late adopters would still start with iPhone and that earlier adopters of Android would upgrade to iPhone after a few purchase cycles. Thus, the iPhone could prosper in later-adoption or even in post-saturation states of the market.

Indeed, in the post-saturation PC market, Apple is doing very well with the Mac and in the late to post-saturation MP3 player market the iPod did extremely well. This suggests that when it comes to value capture brand, experience and satisfaction trump function, price and share considerations in almost all consumer markets[1]

With so many assumptions put asunder the iPhone business suddenly looks downright lively. I adjusted my own growth assumptions and the resulting figures are shown below.

  1. Enabled by design for jobs to be done. See non-technology markets for abundant evidence of this. []