Apple Earnings: Ignore the Apple Watch

Despite it being Apple's first new product since 2010, investors can safely ignore first results for the Apple Watch.

Alex Dumortier
Alex Dumortier, CFA
Jul 21, 2015 at 12:53PM

A tsunami of earnings reports continues to flood the market, and stocks are lower on Tuesday: The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and the broader S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) are down 1.16% and 0.45%, respectively, at 12:50 p.m. EDT. The growth-oriented Nasdaq Composite was down 0.18%, as investors eagerly await quarterly results from two of the three largest technology companies by market value, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which report after today's close. (That's right: Microsoft, which is now considered something of a relic compared to Apple and Google, nevertheless sports a market capitalization nearing $400 billion.) 

Since the Apple Watch is the company's first new product since Apple introduced the iPad in 2010, there will naturally be significant interest in how well the new device is selling when the company reports its fiscal third-quarter earnings after today's close. Apple said last year that it would not include unit sales figures in its quarterly report, but that would only fuel investors' hunger for any scrap of relevant information. 

Analysts who cover the company have not been much help, either, with sales forecasts that are all over the map (although several have brought their estimates down over the past several weeks). Prior to the launch, Goldman Sachs was forecasting 2015 sales of 7.7 million units sold in 2015, while Jefferies was looking for some 16 million. The truth is that estimating sales is very difficult, even for mature products. 

I think investors with a short attention span may well overestimate the significance they assign to any discussion of the Apple Watch this afternoon. Let's place it in some context: 

First, the watch went on sale online on April 24 and in stores on June 26, so any data we obtain will relate to less than half a quarter's worth of activity. It's already clear that the watch won't compare to the iPad or the iPhone in terms of initial success, but, given the nature of the product (and, if we're begin honest, the way in which it was rolled out -- rather clumsily), no one anticipated anything different. 

To be frank, I don't see consider that smartwatches are a fully fledged, separate product category -- not in their current incarnation, at any rate. The Apple Watch, for example, seems like an adjunct device to the iPhone: a peripheral. As Macworld remarked back in May, "Smart as the Apple Watch is, it's still dependent on your smartphone for a number of its most common features, most notably anything that requires access to the Internet or pulls data from apps on your phone."

Bottom line: The addressable market for the Apple Watch isn't anywhere near as large as that for the iPad or iPhone. So, by Apple's exalted standards, the launch may be a failure, but don't be fooled: It's already the most successful smartwatch out there, and by a wide margin. Given that this is the product's first iteration, the jury is still out on its place in the Apple ecosystem and its ultimate commercial potential -- and this is coming from someone who was/is a bit skeptical regarding the entire concept of a smartwatch.