The Apple Watch is now a year old, 1 year old, and, as usual, many a tech analyst has created a link between Apple Watch sales and those of the iPhone, one of the most revolutionary mobile products the world has ever seen. And, surprisingly, Apple Watch sales have proven to be twice as popular as original iPhone sales: the Apple Watch has as many as 12 million sold, compared to 6 million original iPhones sold (the first-generation).
This seems to suggest that the Apple Watch is popular – in fact, more popular than the iPhone. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a comparison that we can make, for a number of reasons.
The Apple Watch depends upon the iPhone to function
The Apple Watch is a smartwatch that Apple has designed to work in tandem with the iPhone, so Apple Watch purchases must come from current iPhone owners (Apple watches don’t yet work alone, though rumors state that this may change with the Apple Watch 2).
Regardless of how popular the Apple Watch may or may not be, the Apple Watch is dependent upon the iPhone to function. In other words, the greater of the two in the iPhone/Apple Watch relationship is still the iPhone. As long as the Apple Watch depends on the iPhone, there is no comparison here. It’s the equivalent of saying that “the cart is greater than the horse,” though, without the figurative horse, the cart would be of no use (“you can’t put the cart before the horse” is a familiar saying in my part of the world). The first-generation iPhone made it possible for the Apple Watch to exist. In other words, the Apple Watch is a successor, not a predecessor, to the iPhone. That smart wrist wearable you’ve come to depend on for your daily notifications must still tip its hat to Apple’s very first smartphone.
The iPhone set the conditions in which the Apple Watch now thrives
It’s true to say that, if it hadn’t been for the iPhone, there’d be no Apple Watch. The iPhone emerged 9 years ago, in 2007, in a climate in which people were still using flip phones and stylus phones such as BlackBerry models. Steve Jobs even joked about the idea of a stylus phone before announcing the first-generation iPhone. At that time, phones weren’t as capable, and the climate wasn’t as receptive to mobile and the idea that portable devices could hold everything about us within them. That doesn’t mean that portable, mobile devices didn’t have their supporters – it just means that the iPhone was relatively new and didn’t quite have the reception it has today.
Now, flash forward to 2016. The smartphone market has reached its peak, with so many consumers owning smartphones. In fact, consumers are so comfortable with their current smartphones that few are upgrading every two years as they once did. Carriers in the US are focusing on early upgrade and installment plans in order to attract customers to the idea of upgrading their smartphones every year now as a way to fight against the stagnant growth in the market.
In this new environment where the iPhone and a number of other smartphones are pretty popular, and mobile devices have become an indelible part of consumer life (both personal and professional), the idea of having devices such as smartwatches that are more mobile than smartphones is one that has its own unique appeal. Had the Apple Watch been unveiled back in 2007, I fear many consumers would’ve bought a Casio timepiece that could only tell time and called it a day. Today, with an iPhone in hand (and the working assumption that smartphones are better than feature phones and flip phones), consumers have no trouble looking at the Apple Watch in a desirable light.
Different times call for different mindsets. It’s not always the case that the mindset remains the same. One need only look at the growing smartwatch market to see the difference between where it is now and where it was just 3 years ago when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear.
The iPhone was an experiment with few predecessors; the Apple Watch was preceded by quite a few smartwatches
The iPhone in 2007 was an experiment; the Apple Watch is an experiment, but Apple has been preceded in the smartwatch space by Samsung (Tizen), Google (Android Wear), Sony, and even Pebble. Apple’s sole reason for launching the Apple Watch was due to the company’s observation that Samsung Galaxy customers were experiencing something new – and Apple customers started to demand the same. Apple doesn’t blaze too many trails these days unless the ideas have proven popular elsewhere. The Apple Watch was built on the backs of Samsung’s early Gear smartwatches.
The Apple Watch, as popular as it may be, will never replace the iPhone
Here’s a gloom and doom truth that speaks in the room, even when it’s silent: the Apple Watch, as popular as it may be, will never replace the iPhone.
The reason behind this statement is simple: the Apple Watch is smaller with a reduced size and screen, and some smartphone capabilities are not possible on a smartwatch.
Yes, I’m sure you’ve seen some YouTube videos in which Android Wear smartwatches have been hacked to run Windows 98, or the once popular game Flappy Bird, or some other Android game, but the truth of the matter is that playing games on a tiny, 1.x-inch screen is nothing short of an eye-stretcher. It’s near impossible to do.
What about watching movies and TV shows, or reading news apps, digital magazines, and so on? Try doing any of those on the Apple Watch; you won’t get very far. Smartphones come with larger, wider displays. The iPhone SE, for example, has a 4-inch display; the Apple Watch has a display that’s less than half that size. If you’re an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus owner currently, try reducing what you see on a 5.5-inch display down to a 1.x-inch screen. It won’t be long before you’ll officially want to tear your hair out.
Ready to take full-length photos on your Apple Watch? You’ll have an interesting (I mean, frustrating) time attempting the effort. Samsung offered a camera on its Galaxy Gear in 2013 that could take 720p photos (HD) and upload them to your Google Photos account. Of course, these photos, as stunning as they were, can’t compare to professional photos taken with professional DSLR cameras today (Nikon, Canon, and Sony are all popular companies that spring to mind). Yes, 720p photos on a wrist (1080p photos, even) are no match for 1080p photos and 1440p photos that can be found today on the iPhone 6s Plus as well as a number of Android smartphones such as Samsung's Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge (both sport 1440p displays and take 1440p photos).
The Apple Watch is valuable in its own right, but it has its own limitations, as do smartphones. And something tells me that each was designed with limitations so that we wouldn’t try to use one to supplant the other, but enjoy them both for their uniqueness.
The Apple Watch/iPhone matchup and comparison is one that, frankly, puzzles me. Sometimes, I think it’s the case that analysts want to create competitions and rivalries that do not exist. The same analysts that are pitting the Apple Watch against the iPhone and saying “the Apple Watch has garnered more sales” are the same ones that pitted the iPhone against the iPad when Apple’s tablet launched three years after the iPhone. At that time, analysts were comparing the two devices to see which would emerge most popular. It’s 6 years later, and the iPhone is still Apple’s best-selling mobile device (I guess you’re aware of just how much in decline iPad sales are).
So with that said, we shouldn’t expect the Apple Watch to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the iPhone. It’s an unrealistic comparison that doesn’t make sense. Instead, we should compare the Apple Watch to all other smartwatches on the market. Once we do, we’ll see that the Apple Watch is commendable all on its own without comparing it to the smartphone on which it depends for functionality.