Why Tim Cook Has Declined to Reveal Apple Watch Sales is Now Clear

| Editorial

Even before the Apple Watch first shipped, Apple's CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple Watch quarterly sales would not be broken out for financial analysts. At first that seemed overly defensive by Apple and worrisome to observers, but in time, we've seen how clever a strategy it has been.


At first blush, one would regard a company's decision not to reveal the sales of a brand new product category like the Apple Watch to be a sign of weakness. After all, if the sales figures look very bad, Apple could hide the numbers long enough to later ease themselves out of the market with a smile and a thank you. Demand just wasn't there. Moving on.

Much better is the notion of suppressing the actual numbers so that the competition wouldn't have a clear picture of the scope of their competition until it's too late.

I like that second idea because Apple is a company that's very good at analyzing its sales in terms of locations, outlets, and customer feedback. Just as Tim Cook brought a high level of sophistication to managing the supply chain under Steve Jobs, he also brings to bear careful attention to why (and why not) customers buy Apple products.

Part of this psychology has been the focus on the Apple Watch being a luxury brand, a product that appeals to customers with lots of expendable income and impulse buying habits. They are fashion conscious, and so signs of early, slow sales might cause customers to have second thoughts about their considerable expenditure.

Because Apple is good at analyzing customer purchase patterns and motivations and because the Apple Watch fits nicely into the existing Apple ecosystem, it's reasonable to presume that the popularity and sales will gain momentum over time, especially as the product improves in its technology and the competition is lulled into complacency.

The Signs

There are signs that this strategy is working. C|NET reported on February 18: "Smartwatches now more popular than Swiss watches, thanks to Apple."

Global shipments of smartwatches outpaced those of Swiss watches in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to figures released Thursday by market researcher Strategy Analytics. This marks the first time the wearable tech devices have overtaken their luxurious counterparts. Much of the credit goes to Apple, which the research firm says has dominated smartwatch sales since its release last April.

The Swiss watch industry has been very slow to react to the development of smartwatches...

Recall that some Swiss watch executives were dubious that Apple, a newbie, would jump into this market and outdo the experts.

While it's true that most traditional watch executives would publicly pooh-pooh the competition from Apple while privately rallying the troops to gear up for combat, it's also true that companies often find themselves outmuscled by Apple's R&D, become complacent or demoralized, or just don't have the in-house expertise to go toe-to-toe with Apple's software and hardware expertise. But if they saw, very early on, that they were being quickly squeezed out of the market, they might marshall the required resources.

Similarly, in the case of Apple's wearable competition, signs of difficulties are also starting to crop up. For example, Cult of Mac's Like Dormehl wrote on February 23, "Apple Watch’s biggest competitor is running into problems."

Fitbit stock dropped 19 percent today after its [sales] forecasts missed estimates, and analysts downgraded the stock as a result. Fitbit shares have declined 44 percent this year so far.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Fitbit cave more deeply in the wake of continued technical development by Apple, just as, years ago, Apple put winning pressure on all those early MP3 players with its new iPod.

Estimated Shipments

The competition hasn't crumbled yet. Fitbit is still the market leader in wearables. But Apple sold, by IDC's estimate, 11.6 million Apple Watches in calendar 2015. (All the details are here in this 9to5Mac report.") And while some observers predicted a much higher number, or were disappointed in Apple's Christmas quarter and would suggest that Apple's 11 million unit sales in 2015 is a disappointment, remember that new Apple products have a history of gaining momentum over time. After all, the early part of the exponential curve is, by definition, fairly flat before it picks up steam on the rise. It happened that way with the iPhone.

In the end, it appears that Apple, in keeping the actual sales numbers close to the vest, has kept the smartwatch, luxury watch, and wearable competition mostly in the dark, delayed a panic with attendant all-hands-on-deck in Switzerland, avoided detailed, negative sales comparisons by the media, and largely kept the early sales numbers out of the buyer's mind as a factor.

One day, it'll be no surprise that Apple has gone from nothing to being the overall leader.

Oh, so quietly. Oh, so smartly.

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Rob Bowers

The strategy worked really well for Steve with the iPhone. Recall, the original was merely getting the foot in the door. But 3G is what really changed the phone market. Competitors were skeptical of the iPhone, most are out of business, or on the brink of closing their doors now. If Apple has some tricks up their sleeves, the next versions of the watch could be real game changers.

I wonder if original iPhone sales were lumped in with iPods until it broke loose?


The watch flopped and Timmy knew it might be a risk. That’s why Apple won’t release sales figures. Sure, they sold a million maybe - but in terms of stockholders you simply don’t deceive like this. Certainly the stock price reflects no major watch sales - either that or phones have leveled out. Apple usually CROWS about successes, not the opposite. The rest of the smartwatch world moves on - merely check Gizmag to see how Apple is plain flat now. The new Samsung S7s are rocking with FREE Gear VR putting a very good VR headset into the households of millions while we hear about a future iPhone with two lenses on one side. Please stop posting about the Watch until we have something more than desperate spins to postulate.


CudaBoy , why are you almost always so angry/negative ?

Did Steve (Jobs) or Tim (Cook) take away or break your favourite Android device ?


Ha! Not angry. And so far, no Android here. Just disappointed with Apple’s meandering business plan of late. My Apple Adam Robot is not ready yet, neither is the VR and 3D.  Let’s see….what do we have to look forward to within 12 months - oh yes, another catch-up iPhone. Nice.


Off topic: Elon’s barge landing today got called for weather - will try again tomorrow. How nice it would be to see Apple’s logo on a Space-X vehicle.
Apple has a lot of money - screw the stupid car idea (it’s already been done-Apple) and let’s get into Space !!


I think it was smart of Apple to withhold the Apple Watch figures.  Considering how big Apple is now, and how they are a very public figure with so many different people watching their every move, I am surprised that they were able to obscure the Apple Watch figures as much as they have.

The Apple Watch is a big disruption to a very long established product category, so it would make sense to be a secretive as possible because the established players have the resources to challenge and match any new entries into their product category.

I personally love my Apple Watch.  Also, the Apple-Doom-Machine would claim any sales numbers, regardless of how high they were, as Apple Watch failure. I have no doubt that if Apple said tomorrow that they have sold 75 million Apple Watches so far, the doom machines would say that it should have been 85 million thus Apple doom.

Lee Dronick

I have noticed the number of 3rd party Apple Watch accessories is increasing and not just in Apple Retail Stores. If the Watch wasn’t selling well, or well enough, then we probably wouldn’t see these accessories.

And yes, I too love my Apple Watch. Perhaps a try before you buy program would increase sales.


“Why Tim Cook Has Declined to Reveal Apple Watch Sales is Now Clear”

Great article, really. But the headline?

I read the article twice and I’m certain that you didn’t make it clear why Tim Cook declined to reveal sales of the Watch. Your guesses and opinions don’t count (though I agree 100% that they are probably accurate).

I point this out only because it’s so rare to see a “clickbait” type of headline here. Generally those are reserved for sites like Cult of Morons or BGR.

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