On Those Market Research Firm’s Estimates of Apple Watch Pre-Orders

All the Mac news sites that had nothing else to talk about yesterday were reporting a market research firm’s estimate of one million Apple Watch pre-orders. John Gruber, writing on Daring Fireball, says what I was going to write:

“I’ve seen this report linked all over the news today, and many of the headlines state something to the effect that Apple sold “one million” watches. First, it’s just wrong to take these estimates as fact — any credible headline needs to emphasize that these figures are estimates. Second, I can’t find any record of Slice Intelligence having made similar estimates of Apple product sales in that past — estimates that we could double check against what Apple eventually reported.

“But third, “one million pre-orders” is not what Slice even claims. They’re saying “957,000 people in the U.S. pre-ordered an Apple Watch on Friday” and that each ordered an average of 1.3 watches. That’s 1.25 million watches — and it’s only for the U.S. Apple Watch went on sale in nine countries last week, all of them major markets. So even if you believe Slice’s estimates are accurate, they imply that customers around the world ordered millions of Apple Watches, plural, on the first day.”

I’ve been wondering about something else. The Apple Watch, slated to start shipping on April 24, slipped from early delivery to “4 to 6 weeks” in a matter of minutes, on pre-order day last Friday. For some models, it was almost immediate. A few other models were still available for early delivery for a couple of hours, mostly 38 mm sizes with the more garish colored sport bands.

Two things are possible. The first is that millions and millions of people wanted these watches on launch day. The second is that Apple had very few units allocated for early delivery, in order to create an artificial shortage. I suspect the latter. While there is a lot of interest, we in our tech reporting echo chamber aren’t really seeing how average people are reacting to this. Early adopters certainly want the watch as soon as possible, but people are not rushing to Apple stores to try on the watch. On launch day, many stores in the US had few people interested in the watch. My son, who lives in Paris, went to Galleries Lafayette, the department store which is one of the places you can buy the Apple Watch Edition, on Friday evening after work, and was able to try on watches without a wait.

I’m heading out to an Apple Store here in the UK in a few minutes, and this particular store, in Solihull, still has plenty of openings for today, and for the coming days.

Apple watch appointments

This is also the case for Apple stores all around the UK, even in London: it’s easy to get an appointment for any of the next three days, and, presumably, one can even walk in and try it on without an appointment.

(I think that Apple is making a mistake in not allowing people to make appointments more than two days ahead; as you can see above, Friday appointments are not yet available.)

I think we’re seeing an artificial exuberance about the Apple Watch among the tech geek crowd who wants to try the next big thing. I don’t think we’re seeing interest among the more general iPhone users. And I think Apple only put a small number of Apple Watches up for sale in the first shipping slots, either because they weren’t confident about selling many, or because they simply haven’t produced enough yet.

All this makes for a very strange product launch. Apple announced availability on April 24, and if you waited ten minutes after pre-orders were available, you wouldn’t get it then; if you happened to be asleep, you’d see estimated shipping dates in June or later. This is no way to launch a brand new product; it will not attract casual users, only the tech faithful. Add to that the fact that you cannot even buy an Apple Watch in a retail store, and it gives an air of exclusivity which is different from what we’ve seen in the past from Apple. Sure, new iPhones sell out pretty quickly, and new Macs – such as the Mac Pro – take months to get production ramped up. But that, too, is simply wrong. If Apple launches a new computer – such as the Mac Pro, or even the new MacBook, launched on Friday – they should be able to provide them more quickly. If they can’t, they should delay the launch until they have enough stock.

We won’t know the truth about Apple Watch sales for a long time, if at all. Apple has made it clear that they are not reporting numbers for this device, and the company has not issued a press release saying how many were ordered over the launch weekend, as they often do for iPhones and iPads. It will a long time to know if the Apple Watch is a success. Like Amazon with Kindle sales, Apple may never tell us how many watches they have sold, and it may become “just a hobby.”