苹果最大的优势不是 iPhone,而是 Apple Watch

Apple Watch Ultra - strap

Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.

Watch this space

Following the announcement of somewhat mixed financial results last week, my colleague Jason Snell noted pointedly that if this is what Apple looks like when it’s struggling, the company is probably going to be just fine. Even with its major product categories down across the board, Cupertino still somehow managed to increase its profits yet again. Tim Cook reminds me of Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions; no matter what happens, he just can’t seem to lose money.

Still, the earnings call was another reminder of how heavily Apple has leaned and continues to lean on the iPhone, the thunderbolt that dropped from a blue sky in 2007 and casts a shadow over the tech market to this day. Of a total of $81.8 billion in revenue this quarter, an astonishing $39.7 billion came from the iPhone. It’s simultaneously impressive that the goose is churning out the eggs 16 years on, and alarming that Apple still hasn’t found a new source of protein.

With Vision Pro unlikely to be wearing out the buttons on Luca Maestri’s calculator any time soon, a more realistic candidate to replace the iPhone as revenue champion is the Apple Watch. It’s not yet remotely comparable (the entire Wearables/Home division, which also includes AirPods and HomePods, made just $8.3 billion in total) but the direction of travel is better, with that category increasing by two percent while the iPhone dropped by the same margin.

And the Apple Watch has far more room to grow. It’s a younger product, having launched in 2015, in a newer sector. Rather than depending on pushing upgrades to existing customers in a saturated market, Apple’s watch division is doing a good job of finding newcomers: the company says that in its most recent fiscal quarter, two-thirds of Apple Watch buyers were buying that device for the first time. The smartwatch market is also far less commoditized than smartphones. Android phones offer a compelling alternative to the iPhone, but nobody has really challenged the Apple Watch’s hegemony. It’s a little like the iPad’s effortless dominance of the tablets sector, except with a healthier overall outlook.

Whereas the iPhone 15’s prospects seem uncertain (early rumors for the following generation have us wondering if we should skip this year’s update, although then again, when does that not happen?) it looks like everything’s coming up Milhouse for the Apple Watch in 2023. Following years of identical processors, the new S9 chip should make for a compelling upgrade, and the second-gen version of the Apple Watch Ultra is now expected to launch this fall, far earlier than previously seemed likely. With multiple worthwhile hardware updates to choose from and a meaningful OS update to accompany them, don’t bet against even more newbies getting sucked into the Apple Watch ecosystem before 2023 is out.

Of course, you need an iPhone to even consider buying an Apple Watch, but you don’t need the latest iPhone. That’s why the Apple Watch is the ultimate “halo effect” product, a relatively affordable device with no competitor that requires another Apple device. People may switch from iPhone to Android, but few, if any people are going to give up their Apple Watch for a Galaxy or Pixel watch. Apple is so far ahead, the past few Apple Watch updates have been relatively minor and new buyers are still flocking to the device.

Looking ahead, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the smartphone’s days are numbered. But the smartwatch, like the sneaky mammals who snuck around after the dinosaurs were wiped out, has a place in the new world. Vision Pro won’t make much sense in conjunction with a phone, but it could pair neatly with an Apple Watch as an extra source of haptic feedback and health data, an extra set of controls that you don’t need to see. One possible AR/VR future, indeed, is to move the inputs and much of the computing power to a wrist-mounted wearable, then keep the headset as thin and lightweight as possible. With its dominant smartwatch, Apple is in a great position to attack whatever the future tech market looks like.

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And with that, we’re done for this week’s Apple Breakfast. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Twitter or on Facebook for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.