Missing all the signs: Desperately seeking a Watch flop

If you only look at certain evidence and ignore other, better, evidence, it's clear the Apple Watch is a flop.


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Guess what? Turns out it’s easy to make the Apple Watch into a flop if you set completely unrealistic expectations and ignore any warning signs.

Writing for Fast Company, Mark Wilson phrases that slightly differently: “The Apple Watch Is Doing Splendidly If You Completely Lower Your Expectations For Apple” (tip o’ the antlers to JoAnn Welsh)

Well, lowering them from “impossible” is still lowering them so, yes. We agree.

I struck a nerve when I called the Apple Watch a flop.

“Struck a nerve” is the new way of saying “I was called out for hyperbolically jumping to conclusions based on practically nothing.” Pretty soon pundits will start literally lighting things on fire and when the police show up to arrest them they’ll just say, “What’s wrong? Did I… strike a nerve?

“No, sir, you struck a match. And threw it into gasoline. Aaand you’re under arrest for arson.”

“Oh. Right.”

Quartz’s Dan Frommer, for example, isn’t having it: “It is silly to call it a massive success yet, but it is equally foolish to call it a flop. It is simply too early, and not enough is known.”

Sanity in a discussion about Apple? GOOD DAY, SIR.

Look: whatever.

Whatever. It’s not like words have meaning or anything. You’re not my real dad.

Even the worst-selling Apple product still pushes millions of units into the online and retail channel, but that doesn’t inherently mean that the Apple Watch will become a cultural phenomenon…

The Macalope has been amused lately at the bar that’s been set for Apple. Everything they sell must “become a cultural phenomenon” or it’s a “flop.”

These are not reasonable expectations. These are impossible goals designed solely to create faux controversy when Apple fails to meet them.

So get hung up on the term “flop” if you want…

Get hung up on that word I threw around with all the subtlety of Gob Bluth doing a magic show. Pssh, not sure where you’re getting that. Other than my repeated articles using that very word. Gawd.

Frommer was not “hung up” on the term. What he did was tear your argument about the Watch not selling well into tiny bits of ridiculous confetti by showing your evidence held no weight. He then threw the confetti into the air and walked through it like Prince walking into a bachelorette party. That’s what Frommer did.

…but the only benchmark we have for success here is how Apple’s most recent products have performed, along with how Apple itself has talked about the watch.

Well, as for the former, Ben Bajarin estimates that first quarter sales of the Apple Watch will top first quarter sales of the iPhone and the iPad. So… really pretty good?

Bajarin was kind enough to explain to the Macalope that his estimate comes from looking at shipments of Watch components reported by suppliers and factoring in Apple’s standard number of weeks for inventory. It’s not perfect, but it’s significantly better than the Slice numbers that Wilson and others have been throwing around that surveyed only those customers that opt into their service.

As for Apple’s Watch talk…

“Apple needed to be more modest in how they set people’s expectations,” says Forrester principal analyst J. P. Gownder. “When Tim Cook pulled the whole, ‘Just one more thing,’ people were really expecting that. When you pull that stage trick out [saying], ‘This is the next big thing.’”

The Macalope was actually set to agree with Gownder here, but then he tried to remember any of the previous “One more things” and realized he couldn’t. The reason, it turns out, is because this is exactly backwards. All the big Apple product releases—the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad—were at events that were almost exclusively dedicated to those devices. The list of “One more things” (which CNET has collected in perhaps the world’s most painfully inscrutable slideshow) includes the original AirPort Base Station, the G4 Cube, aluminum PowerBooks, the iPod shuffle, the iPod touch, and a few others that didn’t ring the “next big thing” bell.

So despite our collective misremembering, “one more thing” is not “the next big thing” at all, it’s just… one more thing. In other words, Apple got it exactly right, but pundits and analysts are still trying to manufacture an embarrassment.

Wilson also argues that because Apple is advertising the Watch, it means they expect it to sell by the metric butt-ton, which it clearly isn’t because he says it isn’t. This advertising standard is, of course, never applied to Samsung’s relentless firehose of Galaxy ads or Amazon pushing Fire Phones on every box they ship. It is only ever applied to Apple.

If you want to talk about a real flop, at this point in the Fire Phone’s life, Amazon had cut the price in half. Since then it’s cut it even more, selling it unlocked for $80 after a free year of Prime. That’s a fire sale you expect to see a beefy man carrying an adorable puppy with smoke inhalation out of.

The point is not that, yay, the Apple Watch is a success by comparison to a product doing horribly, the point is that words do have meaning and you’re using them wrong.

“I think it’s quite interesting that they won’t release any sales information,” says Rachel Arthur, a senior analyst at the fashion trend forecasting firm WGSN. “Which is evidence in itself, I think, that it hasn’t done as well as they expected it to.”

If the Watch had sold in blowout numbers, Apple might have mentioned them, but that was hardly even possible when initial supplies were likely constrained by faulty taptic engines. Fault Apple for poor due diligence if you want but that’s not an effect of poor demand.

Apple said during their quarterly conference call back in October that they weren’t going to break out Watch sales figures. This was something decided long before the first Watch shipped. If anything, that should have been another sign that they didn’t expect the Watch to sell in blowout numbers. But pundits keep willfully missing the signs.

Whatever retail or online demand there is for the Apple Watch, it is being easily met.

Yes, the fact that you can actually buy an Apple Watch now after months of it being back-ordered is surely a terrible sign.

No one can say with certainty if the watch is a complete marketplace failure for the company…

No one can say with certainty the thing I said repeatedly until someone called me out on it.

So you don’t like the term “flop”? That’s fine! I guess not everyone expects as much out of Apple as I do.

That’s right, we don’t expect Apple to release an iPhone every time Tim Cook takes the stage. That’s called being reasonable.

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