Why Apple, Inc.'s iWatch Could Surprise Us All

While many Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) analysts are attempting to make estimates of how many so-called iWatch devices the tech giant could sell during its first year of availability, the elephant in the room can't be avoided: Analysts -- or anyone for that matter -- know very little about the device. So, how can anyone make a legitimate guess as to how the new product line will perform in the market?

iWatch concept design by SET Solution. Image used with permission. Watch a video of this concept here.

Sure, there are figures on the wearable and smartwatch categories. Consider, for instance, the latest figures on the potential for the wearable computing market from IDC. The research company expects total wearable shipments to hit 19.2 million in 2014 and climb to 112 million by 2018.

But in such a nascent market, with so many players introducing and readying devices, putting a figure on the market is a nearly impossible task. Consider the immense difference in estimates from another research company: ABI Research. ABI expects 42 million of a more narrowly defined category, health and fitness wearable computing devices, to be shipped in 2014. By 2018, ABI expects the broader wearable computing device market to grow to 485 million in annual shipments. 

So how should investors approach the iWatch?
Look at history. The last major new products the company introduced were the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad -- all of which exceeded the most bullish expectations. Even more, each subsequent launch of these major categories seemed to outperform expectations by an even wilder measure. Further, each product line started off with far greater first-year sales than any other prior Apple product in its first year of sales.

iPad Air. Image source: Apple.

Consider the iPad. Going into the iPad launch, the most bullish estimate for the tablet's potential was 7 million sales. The consensus analyst estimate? Just 3 million. But Apple put all these estimates to shame, recording

14.8 million iPad shipments in 2010. Today, trailing-12-month unit sales for the segment sits at a comparatively monstrous 71 million.

Obviously Apple is a much bigger company today than it was when it launched the iPhone and even the iPad. So, even a very successful iWatch could have only a small impact on Apple's bottom line. That said, investors should still expect the iWatch to at least be a meaningful contributor to Apple's bottom line given Apple's successful history of entering new categories.

But putting an exact figure on the device's potential is probably not worth the time. There are simply too many unknown factors. But do expect the iWatch to provide some solid upside to Apple's business in the coming years.

Thoughts on Apple's strategy and potential
 No one's opinion on Apple's competitive strategies is more respected than Asymco's Horace Dediu.

Two quotes from his past literature stand out to me as relevant to the iWatch launch, both of which I feel are just as useful to investors as coming up with a specific sales estimate for the iWatch.

Apple's iPod nano was the first Apple device that could be worn as a watch.

Following the outperformance of the iPad during its first year, Dediu wrote:

If analysts, to a man, fail, you can be sure that competitors are no wiser. This collective shrug amounts to the greatest competitive advantage any entrant could ever hope to obtain.

Looking back at the growth of Apple's product lines, Dediu extrapolated an interesting statement about the future:

The speed with which products are introduced and scaled is phenomenal so it is more important than ever to see beyond the trajectory of existing products into the pattern of the introduction of new product categories.

Markets are effective in anticipating the path of a technology as it ascends into the hands of users, especially if it is destined for ubiquity. But markets are completely incapable of anticipating the emergence of new technologies.

In this regard markets are a reflection of common sense rather than uncommon wisdom.

The iWatch could significantly outperform our expectations. This vague estimate is about all I feel comfortable making, but Apple's history, combined with its robust ecosystem of hardware, software, and services, gives me confidence that this outcome is likely.

Leaked: Apple's next smart device (warning, it may shock you)
Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early in-the-know investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart gizmo, just click here!

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 13, 2014, at 12:12 AM, ssbranche wrote:

    Here's what I don't understand. Shouldn't investors be aware of the body of bio-research related to the products they are investing in? Have you Motley's taken more than a cursory look at all the research that shows that wireless signals are bio-affective in both human and animal studies? Is there some reason we are not paying attention to that, in terms of future risk? As it is, 50% of the biological studies are showing bioeffects...about 1/3 of industry-sponsored studies and 70% of non-industry-sponsored studies. Some of the impacts that are showing up most often are impacts on neurology, genetics (including damaged sperm) and cellular stress, in addition to what appears to be cancer promotion. Is the idea that we just ignore all this, and pretend it doesn't exist?

  • Report this Comment On July 14, 2014, at 9:57 AM, McBobb wrote:

    Yes. Next question please.

    Ideally from someone not wearing a shiny tinfoil hat who is blissfully unaware of the natural broad-spectrum EM radiation that we have all been bathed in on a daily basis for thousands of years.

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Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

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Daniel Sparks

Daniel is a senior technology specialist at The Motley Fool. To get the inside scoop on his coverage of technology companies, follow him on Twitter.

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