With its preorder window officially open and its release only weeks away, all eyes in technology are on the Apple Watch. As Apple's (AAPL 3.08%) first new product since 2010, the Apple Watch carries huge implications for Apple and the smartwatch market in general. And according to some recent research, Apple's initial Watch sales might prove stronger than most expect.
How many millions was that?
Predicting Apple Watch sales has been a huge area of focus of late. After interpreting the Watch's first weekend of pre-orders, research analysts at RBC revised their estimate for near-term Apple Watch sales. They now believe Apple will sell somewhere between 3 million and 5 million Watches during its current quarter ending in June. And as a result of this stronger-than-expected demand, RBC now estimates first-year Apple Watch sales will reach somewhere between 15 million and 20 million units. For those keeping score at home, the average sell-side analysts' year-one Apple Watch sales estimate was 14.6 million.
Importantly, we've seen a trend in rising estimates in the wake of the beginning of the Watch's preorder period last weekend. Analysts at Cowen and Company commented that the Apple store sales associates they polled said most in-store appointments to test the Watch resulted in a sale, an anecdotal but encouraging data point. Because of its research, Cowen increased its estimate for Apple Watch sales to a lofty 31 million units in its first 12 months. Rounding out the analyst commentary, researcher Slice Intelligence claimed Watch purchases exceeded 1 million units in the first 24 hours of its pre-order window.
How this affects the big picture
This is admittedly an early snapshot of demand for the Apple Watch, but it has surprised most observers. This increased bullishness could provide a tailwind for Apple stock in the short term. But how should investors be thinking about the Apple Watch long-term? That's a more interesting and pertinent question for Apple shareholders.
Initial quarterly and full-year sales of past Apple products might shed some light on just how impressive these possible Apple Watch launch figures prove, although there are a number of key factors to consider. It's worth noting that if the Apple Watch is indeed able to hit around 15 million unit shipments, that number would make the Watch rival the iPad for the title of Apple's fastest-selling product ever. The iPhone was released in June 2007, and sales tallied only 11.8 million units throughout Apple's entire FY 2008. The iPad went on sale in March 2010, the tail end of Apple's FY Q2. In the slightly over 2 quarters of iPads sales Apple tallied in FY 2010, it sold 7.5 million iPads. Over the course of Apple's entire FY 2011, that number had exploded to 32.4 million. That's a hugely encouraging data point and a comparison that's fitting for a number of reasons. Over the long term, the Apple Watch's lack of carrier support will probably make the Apple Watch more economically similar to the iPad, rather than the iPhone.
Apple's fortunate son
However, one must also understand that entering the market in which hundreds of millions of consumers and companies own iPhones and iPads gives the Apple Watch a larger natural built-in audience than either device enjoyed at its launch. Sure, the iPhone had the Mac and the iPod. Likewise, the iPad had the iPhone, the Mac, and the iPod to help its rollout. However, Apple's mobile devices have recently blossomed to a level of ubiquity few considered possible when Apple launched the iPad in 2010. So while the future appears increasingly bright for the Apple Watch, we'll simply have to wait and see how the coming weeks unfold as tech's most important story of 2015 continues to take shape.