With a long-rumored Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iWatch potentially set to arrive in the fall, a recent survey suggested that there may be strong interest in an Apple smart watch – but for most, only if the price is right. Price is something Apple rarely, if ever, competes on, and early movers Samsung and Pebble already have several sub-$200 smart watches on the market. Does this signal trouble ahead for the long-awaited Apple wearable?
Maybe. But more likely, this survey – and similar surveys that came before it – will prove meaningless once the product hits the market.
First, let's take a quick look at what the survey, published by investment firm Piper Jaffray, had to say.
More than $200? Count us out
It found that 14% of watch wearers would consider an iWatch at $350, but 86% would not. Perhaps more interesting, about 41% said they might be interested in an Apple smart watch -- but only if it were under $200.
That's a price point at which it would be hard to imagine Apple trying to compete.
This isn't the first study that showed tepid interest in an Apple wristband device. Last year, ChangeWave Research found that just 5% of consumers considered themselves "very likely" to purchase an iWatch.
But do these surveys really offer investors much insight into the potential iWatch market?
Unlikely, and we only have to look back at surveys taken before the releases of the first iPhone and iPad models to gain some perspective.
Didn't we see this before?
In January 2010, only 4% of respondents in an RBC/ChangeWave study felt that they would be "very likely" to purchase a tablet computer.
The iPad, of course, went on to crush all sales expectations, and by mid-2012, it had already sold 34 million iPads in the U.S. – units at price points far in excess of the tablets produced by Samsung, Amazon, and other Android-based tablet makers.
That's one iPad per approximately every 7.6 Americans over the age of 14 – or about 13%. And sales at that point were really just starting to ramp up.
So despite only 4% of the population having considered themselves "very likely" to buy, more than three times that number moved quickly to buy one.
And once more, before that?
And if we go back three more years, to a time before Apple's 2007 iPhone launch, just 3% of those polled by RBC/ChangeWave said they were highly interested in buying an iPhone, and just another 6% said they were somewhat interested.
Within five years, Apple had sold roughly 86 million iPhones in the U.S. While many of those were undoubtedly upgrades, that's one iPhone for every three Americans over the age of 14.
In both cases, Apple defied those interest surveys by delivering products that people didn't think they wanted, but soon felt like they couldn't do without. The key to success for the Apple iWatch will be the same. The product not only needs to be better than what's already on the market, it must be different, easy to use, and stylish.
But most of all, it has to allow its users to do things they had not imagined doing with a wristband device ever before. What truly made the iPhone and iPad special was that they expanded the boundaries of their users. They took non-techies and tech-o-phones and turned them into people who treated their handheld like an appendage.
The Foolish bottom line
That's a factor that no pre-launch survey can account for. So, whether results portend good news or bad news, take either with a grain of salt. This will be Apple's first major new product launch of the post-Jobs era. It will be held up on Wall Street as a measure of the company's innovation, and its success will have effects that reach much further that the device's sales.
Investors have a lot riding on the product's launch, and they should be champing at the bit. But don't think you're going to get much insight from any pre-launch consumer surveys.