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Is Botched Apple Watch Launch Hurting Long-Term Sales Of The Device?

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Analysts are lowering sales expectations for the Apple Watch amid suggestions that the wearable is flopping due to lack of consumer interest. Is the confusing and poorly-managed launch of the device partly to blame for the downturn?

The Apple Watch launch in April was expected to be another home run for Apple. Apple fans were generally stoked about the company's new wearable, and initial media coverage was extensive as usual. Apple announced a launch date of April 24, but consumers were allowed to purchase up to two Apple Watches in advance online beginning on April 10.

When the sale went live online in the wee hours, it became clear that the majority of Apple watches sold would not be available by the launch date, and many of the most popular models wouldn't be shipped until as late as June. No in-store sales would occur on the announced launch date, and buyers could only try out the wearable at Apple stores and then order it online for future delivery. Many Apple fans were disappointed and critical of the way Apple handled the launch, and confusion as to where and how to purchase the device reigned among the general public.

Now, it appears that consumer interest in the Apple Watch is quickly waning. UBS analysts have already cut their sales predictions for the device by 23 percent. Pacific Crest Securities analyst Andy Hargreaves concluded that: "Anecdotal evidence suggests Apple Watch demand is slowing quickly" and predicted 2015 sales will hit just 10.5 million instead of his previous estimate of 11 million. He further adjusted sales estimates for 2016 to 21 million from a previous prediction of 24 million. Other analysts have also lowered their initial sales predictions significantly.

Some pundits are pointing to the lack of in-store availability as being one of the reasons for the lower sales figures. Beyond that, the intangible hype that usually corresponds with a new in-store Apple product launch never fully materialized — the buzz on the street, the lines around the block and the palpable energy that surrounds an Apple launch just wasn't there and cannot be recreated months later now that in-store sales have finally begun. Apple so much as admitted its mistake when Angela Ahrendts, the company's senior vice president of retail and online stores, initially touted the online-only launch as a blueprint for a new direction, then quickly reversed her position, stating that future products will not be introduced in a similar fashion.

Is it possible that the initial lack of launch day excitement combined with consumer frustration and disappointment has spoiled the overall perception of the device to the degree that it has hurt the Apple watch "brand" long term?

Now that Apple has begun selling the device in stores, it will be interesting to see if interest picks up at all. The company publicly remains optimistic about the outlook for the watch and claimed during their announcement of Apple Watch in-store availability that "the response to Apple Watch has surpassed our expectations in every way, and we are thrilled to bring it to more customers around the world."

Sales in the next six months, which include the holiday season, could be a reliable indicator of how the Apple Watch will fare in the long run and whether the company irreparably damaged the fortunes of its latest new device via its widely-criticized non-launch launch.

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