Why the Apple Watch Is So Inexpensive These Days

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For most users, a smartwatch just isn’t useful enough to justify the investment. But that doesn’t stop lots of tech fans from thinking that wearables, like the Apple Watch, are pretty cool pieces of technology. If you’ve been planning on purchasing the Apple Watch but were just holding out for a great deal, you might find it particularly interesting that Best Buy, Target, Walmart, B&H, and a few other stores are offering Apple’s first smartwatch at a discount of $100. That makes the 38mm Sport model just $249 and the 42mm just $299. But as Romain Dillet reports for TechCrunch, the fact that the Apple Watch is on sale doesn’t necessarily mean that the second-generation version of the smartwatch is right around the corner.

Instead, it seems that Apple is simply looking to make the most of the opportunity to grab market share with the first version of the Apple Watch. It seems pretty likely that if you purchase an Apple Watch now, you’ll be inclined to buy one again in a couple of years, perhaps when smartwatches have gained better apps, smarter sensors, and longer-lasting batteries. Perhaps more importantly, the Apple Watch will only work with your iPhone, so when it comes time to buy a new smartphone, you’re probably going to stick with an iPhone so that you can continue to use your Apple Watch, or upgrade to a new one.

Dillet notes that the discount is available only at third-party retailers, not at the Apple Store, where the smartwatch is still being offered at its original price. “It all comes down to perception,” Dillet explains. “Apple wants to keep the premium perception around its brand and especially around this product. Other than the Sport variant, the Apple Watch is a luxury item. And luxury items aren’t supposed to be on sale.”

You shouldn’t assume that the sale means that the second-generation version of the Apple Watch is about to be announced. An Apple event on March 15 seems likely, given the pace of the rumors circulating about what Apple could announce at that time (most bets are on a new 4-inch iPhone, which may end up being called the iPhone 5se). While we’re expecting a second-generation version of the Apple Watch to appear sometime this year, it seems unlikely that Apple’s March event will introduce anything more than some software updates, new band options for the current Apple Watch, and perhaps another Apple Watch created in collaboration with a notable fashion label.

That means that the original Apple Watch will likely continue its reign as the most popular smartwatch for at least a few months more — an honor that may or may not be as impressive as you’d initially imagine, considering the relatively small smartwatch market. While the splashy launch of the Apple Watch had lots of people talking about Apple’s first wearable, it also raised awareness of wearables overall and perhaps even increased interest in fitness trackers, a category of wearables that are better-suited to the needs and budgets of a wider variety of consumers.

Smartwatches have lagged behind fitness trackers in terms of growth, perhaps in part because many smartwatches are expensive enough to price out users who are primarily interested in fitness-tracking functionality and find themselves on the fence as to whether they really need true smartwatch features like smartphone notifications and communication abilities. General-purpose smartwatches have been criticized both for being overwhelming and for lacking the apps that would make them truly useful — a chicken-and-egg problem when you consider that without a critical mass of smartwatch users, developers are going to have trouble creating game-changing apps.

It’s unclear whether a second-generation Apple Watch, and the new features and upgraded hardware it would likely bring, would be enough to get more users on board with the device or with smartwatches as a category. As noted by a recent report from Juniper Research — the same report that found that the Apple Watch accounted for 52% of global smartwatch shipments in 2015 — the lack of a compelling use case has meant that so far, many consumers have opted for lower-priced devices that have more basic functionality.

According to research author James Moar, “The smartwatch is now a category waiting for a market.” He adds, “Newer devices have offered more polished looks and subtly different functions, but no large changes in device capabilities or usage. With smartwatch functions established, it is now up to consumers to decide if they want them, rather than technology companies providing more reasons.” But that hasn’t stopped Apple from trying to offer more reasons to buy an Apple Watch — in this case, slashing prices by $100 to try to get curious users to give the smartwatch a try.

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