Apple announced the April 24 launch of its Apple Watch, labeled by Tim Cook as “the most personal device Apple has ever created.” Reactions to the announcement were mixed, with some viewing it as Apple’s first major flop in a decade, while others applauded its blend of fashion and function.
I’m not here to tell you whether the Apple Watch will be a success or a failure, because I can’t. That would require knowing what Apple defines as success. Ten million units? One hundred million units? Sixty percent margins? The standards for Apple products are absurd, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see financial analysts bemoan the failure of the Apple Watch 12 months from now, citing insufficient impact on Apple’s earnings.
Then again, I’m not a financial analyst. I’m a marketer. And what I can tell you with a good amount of certainty is that the Apple Watch will become a valuable platform for brands. How do I know this? Because even accepting the most bearish predictions for the Apple Watch, I’m still encouraged by its potential. Here are some of those predictions:
“It won’t be as successful as the iPhone, iPad or iPod.”
Of course it won’t. It’s a $350 peripheral for a device that has a finite user base. There are no subsidies, rebates or sales on the horizon. It is strictly a luxury purchase, for which there is no precedent within the Apple ecosystem. This is why first-year sales estimates differ wildly between analysts — from 10 million units to over 50 million.
At 10 million, Apple becomes the most successful smartwatch manufacturer by a factor of 10.
At 20 million, the Apple Watch has shipped as many units as the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.
That’s 20 million new users with a screen attached to their wrists, preselected for disposable income, allowing brands to push offers and send alerts on a platform that is designed to maximize accessibility and interaction. By any measure that isn’t the iPhone — that counts as scale.
“It doesn’t add anything new.”
True, the Apple Watch doesn’t do anything beyond what is already possible on your phone or another wrist-worn device. It sends messages, provides alerts and tracks heart rate. Apple hasn’t innovated in terms of content.
Where Apple has created something fresh is in reinterpreting those experiences for use on a smartwatch in a way that the Android community has not. Messaging plays a central role, from line drawings to tap sequences to heartbeats. All of these formats are uniquely optimized for this platform, while capitalizing on the broader trends of ephemerality and privacy, popularized by apps such as Snapchat.
New methods of communication mean new ways to reach consumers, and Apple has created a foundation upon which brands can create new experiences that are more personal and relevant than anything consumers have seen before. Now more than ever, Apple is putting these brands at the forefront of their marketing. ESPN, Uber, SPG and Expedia all received dedicated time on stage at the Apple Watch event, chosen because they brought something innovative to the platform and because they had the confidence to invest in it from the start.
None of this is meant to say that the Apple Watch is a must-have marketing platform for everyone. Each brand has its own standards for investment in emerging platforms, and users still need to have the iPhone nearby for the Apple Watch to function, so traditional phone applications will still work just fine for many. But for brands that are on the fence because of adoption or utility, those concerns are unfounded. Apple Watch applications will expose your brand to a young, engaged, affluent audience in ways that weren’t previously possible, and it will do so at scale. So consider the ways in which your brand could create a more personal connection to your consumers through its unique feature set, and build with confidence.