How Many Models? The Apple Watch Conundrum

In conversations I’ve had recently about the Apple Watch, a number of people express the belief that Apple will sell dozens of different Apple Watch models. Since the Apple Watch will come in three different models, each with two colors, and each with a number of different bands, some people think that Apple will have individual models (or SKUs) for each combination.

Apple has done similar things in the past. They’ve sold iMacs in different colors, and iPods have long been available in a range of colors as well. Currently, the iPhone and iPad are available in three different colors, and in a number of configurations (different storage capacities, and with or without cellular support for the iPad). And the iPod touch, nano and shuffle come in, respectively, five, seven and seven colors, though each model has only one capacity.

So what will happen with the Apple Watch? Let’s start with what we know will be the least expensive model, the Apple Watch Sport. It will be available in two colors (silver and space gray), and with five different colored watchbands. It will also come in two sizes. So that makes, just for the Apple Watch, 20 different combinations.

The plain, mid-range Apple Watch will have six watchbands, together with two colors and two sizes, making 24 different combinations.

And the Apple Watch Edition will be in two colors, two sizes, but an unknown number of bands. On the web page for the Apple Watch Edition, you can see photos of different colored watchbands, many of which are specific to the Apple Watch Edition (because of gold buckles, for example), but Apple doesn’t say how many bands will be available. They do mention “six uniquely elegant expressions of Apple Watch,” but only show five watchbands. So, six “expressions,” times two colors times two sizes, equals another 24 combinations. They don’t show any gold watchbands, and I would expect there to be a couple of them, in addition to the leather and plastic bands.

If you add other bands, which Apple has probably not mentioned, there may be as many as 100 combinations or more. Even with the above, I get a total of 68 combinations. Can we expect Apple Stores to stock them all? I don’t think so. I think Apple will either sell the watch body separately from the band – when you buy an Apple Watch, you choose two items – or will only sell a limited selection in-store, and sell the others online. Managing stock like that is a nightmare, and Apple Stores aren’t really designed for that sort of variety.

In addition, I can imagine that, if the Apple Watch is successful, that watchbands become a coveted accessory, as iPhone cases are now. Assuming Apple allows other companies to sell watchbands (if they have somehow patented or copyrighted the connector), it would be more interesting to buy an Apple Watch with the cheapest band, then go out and buy an add-on watchband that suits your taste.

It will be interesting to see how Apple approaches this from a supply chain perspective. Gauging interest in specific colors and styles isn’t easy, especially for a totally new product line.

Do you think the Apple Watch is attractive? I’ve set up a poll asking that question.