Even when he is swimming, Haigreve Khaitan, managing partner of corporate law firm Khaitan & Co. can read messages, and even take incoming calls that are urgent, when he’s got his Apple Watch on. “The utilities that it comes with include counting steps per day, watching calories expended. These are all hugely motivating,” he says.
Of course, Khaitan admits that he has little by way of response to his wife’s queries about what he plans to do with his luxury watch collection, which includes a coveted Vacheron Constantin in white gold.
Apple launched its smart watches in 2015 to a fair amount of skepticism from horology critics as well as traditional watch manufacturers. But over the intervening years, the tech behemoth has changed the game for wearables. And yes, indeed, the market for wearables has considerably expanded today to include the likes of Xiaomi and other basic smartwatch manufacturers. But Apple has stayed ahead of the curve.
The Apple Watch is a key lynchpin in Apple’s broad push into health. “Over the past six years, Apple has moved from merely focussing on consumer wellness, say, via features such as step counts and GPS, to empowering consumers by diving deep into healthcare, with features such as built-in heart rate sensors, tracking menstrual cycles, electrocardiogram monitoring, meditation, fall detection, and even a blood oxygen app with its Series 6. With each successive update, Apple has been debuting new healthcare features that, among others, have literally saved human lives,” says Prabhu Ram, head, Industry Intelligence Group, CyberMedia Research.
Series 4 onwards, the watch comes equipped with electrodes that can detect irregular heartbeats and can potentially alert users of health emergencies before it’s too late. Ram argues that these features are so wildly popular that they have now percolated into the affordable smartwatch segment as well. The market players, targeting the affordable smartwatch segment, include homegrown brands such as Noise and boAt, among others, and the likes of smartphone brands that have forayed into wearables, such as Xiaomi, OnePlus, OPPO and realme.
In a recent quarterly results announcement Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed out that the vast majority of markets they tracked grew double digits, with especially strong growth in emerging ones, such as India, Latin America, and Vietnam.
At the premium end, Apple is ahead of other market players in value terms. “It’s pretty much a two-horse race here in India, between Samsung and Apple, with Apple having more than half of market share,” says Navkendar Singh, analyst with IDC. Singh adds that the last two years have seen market sales for Apple grow from around 1.5 lakhs units in 2019 to almost 3.5 lakhs in 2020.
“Driving that growth was the fact that a lot of people were staying at home and had become more fitness focussed, and also the fact that its price points are more amenable as opposed to say super-luxury watches,” says Singh.
Sapna Malhotra, partner with First Harmonic, a Mumbai-based hedge fund, says she received a Series 5 Apple Watch last year and hasn’t missed her Tag Heuer ever since. “Apart from the fitness features, the best part is that it unlocks my phone while I’m wearing a mask because the face scan tethers the unlocking.”
Malhotra adds that she’s obsessed with the information in it. “From the air quality index, to the level of my heart rate to checking the Sensex, it does it all.”
CyberMedia’s Ram says that over the pandemic year, smartwatches represent one of the fastest-growing segments in wearables. “Globally, Apple Watch accounts for close to half of the entire smartwatch revenues, driven by strong demand for Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 6,” he argues, adding that in India, estimates point to Apple leading in revenue terms, with close to 40% market share, followed by Samsung with around 19%.
What drives sales is also the aggressive marketing and promotional offers that older-model watches get in India when the new models near launch. For example, Apple’s seventh-generation model is expected to launch worldwide in September and will come to India then or perhaps in October and is likely to make the sixth-generation model subject to discounts. “Apple watches have seen strong gains in India, driven primarily by older-generation models, including the Apple Watch Series 3 and the SE. Aggressive marketing initiatives and promotional offers on Series 6 and Series 5 also helped Apple cement its leadership,” says Ram.
In the post-Covid-19 pandemic era, wherein consumers are putting a premium on their health and wellness, the Apple Watch wins big. However, like any electronic gadget there’s always room for improvement. Khaitan says that Apple Watch’s memory could get better with the passage of time, as could battery life. While there are certainly newer and burgeoning areas in healthcare that will be introduced, those may well also be the focus areas that have been overhauled for the Series 7.