Although the Apple Watch is expected to generate twice the
sales that Apple’s iPhone generated in its first full year on the market,
travel and technology analysts question what its long-term impact
will be on travel distribution patterns.
While suppliers such as American Airlines and Starwood
Hotels & Resorts and intermediaries such as Expedia lead a pack of travel
companies that have made their apps available on the Apple Watch since that
product’s April 24 launch, the analysts predicted that, for the foreseeable
future, its relatively small physical interface will prevent it from being used
for much more than a mapping device, an instant-notification tool or possibly a
method for hotel room keyless entry.
The issue most often cited is the Apple Watch’s relatively
small screen and the challenge of performing transactions on it. The watch is
available with 38 millimeter or 42 millimeter square screens. Even the larger
screen is only about 2.2 inches diagonal, while the iPhone 6 Plus’ rectangular
screen is almost six inches diagonal.
In addition, Apple Watch’s apps need to be linked up with
its user’s iPhone, and the product is not compatible with versions earlier than
iPhone 5 (nor does it work with Android or Windows phones).
“It’s where you get alerts, directions, navigations, a
gate-change notification, your flight’s running early, whatever. It’s those
bits of information that might be helpful to you during the journey,” said
Glenn Gruber, senior mobile strategist at Propelics. “I don’t think it’s really
well positioned at this point to help you book something.”
The device’s design is likely to have an impact on consumer
adoption, just as the design of Google Glass did, though for the opposite
Gruber and Douglas Quinby, vice president of research at
Phocuswright, both mentioned that while Google Glass’ physical prominence made
regularly wearing that product awkward, Apple Watch’s relative discreetness
makes it challenging to use for detailed transactions from a practical point of
“A lot of analysts said 2015 would be the year of the
'wearable,'" Quinby said. “But it’s not.”
Still, such concerns have not stopped customers from trying
out the product. While the fact that Apple Watch on April 10, its first day of
pre-orders, sold out of its initial allocation in just six hours was not unusual
(Apple is notorious for undersupplying new products for the sake of buzz),
Apple Watch is projected to sell about 19 million units this year and will
account for 56% of the smartwatch sector, research firm IHS said earlier this
month. And while that’s a fraction of Apple’s smartphone sales (the company
sold 61.1 million iPhones during the first quarter), it sold just 6.9 million
iPhones in 2008, that product’s first full year of sales.
In fact, that may bode well for the nascent smartwatch
market, for which IHS said Apple is carrying the torch.
“Should Apple stumble with its foray into smartwatches, the
smartwatch market will suffer similarly,” Ian Fogg, senior director of mobile
and telecoms at IHS, wrote in a May 10 statement. “Smartwatches could then
follow the fate of Google Glass. Apple’s smartwatch competitors need the Apple
Watch to succeed.”
For Apple’s part, the company, during its March 9 unveiling
of the Apple Watch, first promoted the product as a fitness-assistant tool. The
company then delved into promoting how the product, with its near-field
communications capabilities, could be used for hailing a car from Uber, boarding
an American Airlines flight without a paper boarding pass and entering a
Starwood hotel room without a key.
Given those uses and Apple’s reputation, especially among
higher-end consumers who travel the most, hoteliers, carriers and OTAs have
aggressively promoted their Apple Watch apps during the past month.
“Companies like American and Starwood see it as a good
opportunity to get onstage with Apple,” Gruber said. “You want to win the press
Quinby added: “It takes some time to get things right and
figure out how consumers are really going to use them. That said, anyone who
wants to bet against Apple, good luck and God bless.”