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Apple Watch isn't a smash hit, but it could be a sleeper

Published:Monday | March 21, 2016 | 3:07 AM

LOS ANGELES:

Nearly a year ago, the Apple Watch was released to great fanfare, with many in the tech press expecting the digital smartwatch to become the next must-have gadget.

Some 11 months after its April 10 debut, billboards and TV ads touting the Watch are scant compared to past launches of the iPhone or iPod. It's hard to find huge crowds of young folks sporting the Watch in public, even in techie havens like San Francisco.

The sea-change in public behaviour - say everyone tethered to their wrist rather than bending over their phone - just hasn't happened. And Apple CEO Tim Cook's public stance on encryption is doing more to distance him from the long shadow of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs than this new device.

"The Watch hasn't been a hit like a typical Apple product," says Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. "It's taken time for people to understand how to get the most of it."

As Apple meets the press today to launch new products, the next version of Apple Watch isn't expected to be among the offerings. Instead, Apple is anticipated to offer some new watch bands and hold the new Watch for the fall.

 

'A SLEEPER'

 

But current estimates of Watch sales are far lower than the most optimistic estimates that were made before the Watch launched. Some had projected sales as high as 40 million in the first full 12 months of sales.

Piper Jaffray's Munster predicts the Watch will eventually catch on. "Over time, it will be a sleeper," he said.

Among the relatively small category of smartwatches, it's already gained significant market share.

 

MIXED FEELINGS

 

The Watch, sold as a wearable companion to the iPhone for checking the time, getting notifications and using apps to help stay fit, has received mixed reviews, both from the tech press and consumers. Some love it, wearing it daily.

"I feel lost without it," says Marc Cohen, a Los Angeles film marketing executive. Mike Calf, 25, a recent college grad in New York who recently bought the Watch says it took some time to get used to. "But it's really grown on me. I like getting notifications on my wrist."

Others barely use it, complaining about having a watch that can barely be used without a companion iPhone, and apps that don't do much.

Alex Welch, the co-founder of Denver-based Lasso Media, says he used the Watch for a week, but stopped due to having to re-charge the battery often. "Fitness stuff was cool, but I prefer Fitbit."

Monica Rohleder Duffy of Los Angeles loves her watch as a "remote control for my phone," but admits that beyond time and notifications, the rest of the features "I don't know how to use." The apps are tiny, "I can't open Facebook," and overall, the watch face is "too small. I'd love a bigger face."

Jeff Zwelling, the chief operating officer of online jobs site ZipRecruiter said he started wearing the watch reluctantly. It was a gift from an assistant to keep him on track with company meetings.

"I had never worn a watch before," he says. But for keeping him on schedule, "It worked better than anything I've ever experienced."

Like Duffy, the Watch works for calendar, appointments and notifications, but the apps leave a lot to be desired. The ride-hailing app Uber works as advertised - but Zwelling had trouble adjusting it to use the lower-priced Uber X service instead of full-featured Uber, and the app for the Ring Video doorbell has audio, but no picture of the person at your front door, which you get on the iPhone app.

Just like the iPad and iPhone, which grew substantially in the years after its launch, analysts say the Watch will see pickup in the coming years.

"The adoption curve for smartwatches is longer than it was for tablets and phones," says Matte of Canalys. "It will just take some time."