Technology analyst IDC is making headlines across the world after stating that unit sales of Apple Watch exceeded the entire Swiss watch industry in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The United States is by far the largest market for Apple Watch, accounting for over half of global sales in the first nine months of 2017.
IDC has outposts in China that winkle information out of component manufacturers for the Apple Watch, which gives it a solid base of evidence for shipments of finished timepieces. This is then cross-referenced with data coming out of world-wide sales channels, which not only gives it an estimate of global sales, but also sales by country.
The estimate for Apple Watch sales in Q4 was 8 million units, a figure that Francisco Jeronimo, research director, European Mobile Devices, at IDC EMEA, assured WatchPro is reliable. “8 million will be close,” he said.
IDC has compared this to export figures reported by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, which totalled 6.8 million units in Q4. The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry does not include sales of watches within Switzerland.
In a debate on Twitter that opened up after Mr Jeremino posted the IDC estimate, he also suggested the value of Apple Watch sales may have been greater than the whole Swiss watch industry in 2017.
Mr Jeronimo’s math starts to look more questionable at this point. Taking only the value of exports by the Swiss watch industry in 2017, the figure is CHF 20 billion ($21.4 billion). The Apple Watch figure is also total sales at retail, while the export figure is a wholesale number that can be roughly doubled to well over $40 billion by the time retailers have added their mark ups.
Apple will not continue to sell 8 million watches per quarter in 2018, IDC predicts. “There is always a spike in Q4 that cannot be sustained throughout the year,” Mr Jeronimo says.
However, he is a strong believer that the entire wristwear market is reaching a tipping point that will see Apple increase its dominance. “When people start wearing an Apple watch, they like the experience. They do not go back to traditional watches,” he suggests.
Even if people prefer the look of mechanical or quartz watches, Apple could easily switch into that market with hybrid models that look like Swiss watches, but talk to smartphones, he adds.
“Other industries made the mistake of ignoring this sort of threat for too long,” Mr Jeronimo concludes.