Apple has built its success on products that disrupt established markets. The Cupertino-based company may have not have made the first digital media player, but the iPod it released in 2001 soon became the standard bearer of the market. Similarly, Apple was a newcomer to the mobile phone market when it revolutionized the industry with the iPhone in 2007. Now, Apple may be about to do the same thing all over again with its soon-to-be-released Apple Watch.
Although the wrist-worn device that Apple unveiled last September won’t become available until April, the device has already sent shockwaves through the smartwatch market. According to market research firm Smartwatch Group, Apple’s wearable announcement even affected overall smartwatch sales last year. While the smartwatch market achieved an 82% year-over-year growth rate in 2014, this was less than what many experts anticipated. “The early announcement of the Apple Watch in September hurt sales of competitive products, and there was no available product offering from Apple,” noted Smartwatch Group managing partner Pascal Koenig. “As several times in the past, it comes down to Apple to reach a breakthrough in the consumer market.”
While the Apple Watch’s disruptive effect on the smartwatch market is to be expected, it may surprise you to learn that the wearable gadget Apple dubbed “its most personal device ever” may also impact several other product markets. Just as the iPhone gradually usurped the iPod as consumers’ default media player, the Apple Watch has the potential to replace several existing devices in other product categories. Here are three products that the Apple Watch might replace.
1. Traditional watches
Perhaps the most obvious product that could be replaced with an Apple Watch is a traditional analog watch. Besides providing the same basic timekeeping function as a traditional watch, the Apple Watch also fulfills a crucial consideration for traditional watch owners – style. Unlike most existing smartwatches on the market, the Apple Watch is as much as a fashion accessory as it is a tech gadget.
Apple is offering its device in three distinct Watch collections that feature a wide variety of band and casing material options. Apple is even taking aim at the traditional luxury watch market by offering a premium Watch Edition model in both yellow and rose 18-karat gold. While the price of the Watch Edition model is still unknown, some industry watchers have predicted it could be as high as $20,000.
The upcoming debut of the Apple Watch already has traditional watchmakers scrambling to meet the challenge. Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer announced earlier this year that it was developing a smartwatch in response to Apple’s device, according to Bloomberg.
Even watchmakers that originally dismissed the Apple Watch have now changed their tune. Swatch CEO Nick Hayek initially downplayed the threat presented by the Apple Watch. “Personally, I don’t believe it’s the next revolution,” said Hayek, as reported by Bloomberg. “Replacing an iPhone with an interactive terminal on your wrist is difficult. You can’t have an immense display.” However, in February Swatch announced that it would be releasing its own smartwatch sometime within the next three months. More recently, Swiss watch brands Frederique Constant, Alpina, and Mondaine have all announced smartwatches, according to 9to5Mac.
2. Fitness bands
Besides presenting a threat to traditional timepieces, the Apple Watch could also replace fitness bands. Fitness bands — or smart bands — are activity-tracking wearables that typically feature no screen or only a one-line display. Popular fitness bands include Nike’s FuelBand and Jawbone’s various devices.
According to market research firm CSS Insight, fitness bands accounted for a 59% share of the worldwide wearables market in 2014. However, the firm predicted that smartwatches would eventually overtake fitness bands as the most popular type of wearable as “capabilities are refined.”
With its multiple health and fitness related functions, the Apple Watch may help kick off this shift in the wearables market. Not only does the Apple Watch subsume fitness bands’ activity-tracking functions with a built-in Activity app, it also includes a heart rate sensor. Additionally, the Apple Watch actually encourages healthy activity by reminding users to stand when they have been sitting for too long. Apple CEO Tim Cook praised the “stand” reminder feature during a talk he gave at the recent Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference.
“I use it in the gym constantly to track my activity level, my exercise, how long I’m exercising; if I sit for too long, it will actually tap me on the wrist to remind me to get up and move,” said Cook according to a transcript provided by iMore. “Because a lot of doctors believe that sitting is the new cancer, right? And arguably activity is good for all of us. And so if you haven’t moved within the hour, ten minutes before the hour it’ll tap you.” Although the Apple Watch is considerably more expensive than most fitness bands, its multiple activity-tracking functions could convince many health-focused consumers to replace their fitness bands.
3. Car fobs and other keyless entry devices
Last, but not least, the Apple Watch could eventually replace the remote-entry key fobs that come standard with many of today’s cars. Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed this unexpected use for the Apple Watch in a recent interview with The Telegraph.
“The watch is designed to be able to replace car keys and the clumsy, large fobs that are now used by many vehicles,” said Cook, according to The Telegraph. However, it’s not clear if this function of the Apple Watch would only work on vehicles that are compatible with the CarPlay iOS device integration system, or if the wearable could be programmed to open any vehicle with a keyless entry system. In any case, as more carmakers outfit the latest models with multiple device integration systems, it may not be long before CarPlay is found on most vehicles.
Apple has also previously revealed other keyless entry devices that the Watch could replace, such as the cardkeys commonly issued by hotels. As reported by Tech Cheat Sheet, a Starwood Hotels app that allows guests to use the Apple Watch as an electronic key was featured by Apple during the company’s media event last September.
Finally, it should be noted that the number of products that the Apple Watch could replace will likely expand in the coming months after the device is publicly released and its capabilities are fully revealed by Apple. The company recently announced that it would be holding a “special event” on March 9 that is widely believed to be intended for an in-depth presentation of the Apple Watch.
Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS