How Apple built a 10-year lead in wearables technology

Apple bet early on wearables… now it’s a $30B a year business that blows away the competition.


June 3, 2021

Apple’s AssistiveTouch in action (Source: Apple / YouTube)

Apple’s latest reveal looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie.

Called AssistiveTouch, the technology allows users to control their Apple Watch without having to touch the screen. Instead, you can pinch and clench your hand or roll your wrist to do black magic activate apps.

Tech analyst Neil Cybart says Apple’s latest innovations give it a 10-year lead on the competition.

In 2021, Apple is on pace…

… to sell 100m+ wearables units. Including the Watch, AirPods, and select Beats headphones, Cybart estimates that Apple’s wearables division will do $30B in 2021 revenue.

“That would rank Apple wearables on a combined basis just shy of a Fortune 100 company,” he writes.

How did Apple build such a strong wearables business?

Cybart cites 5 reasons:

  • Early to the game: One of Apple’s guiding principles is to make technology more personal, and it started investing in wearables in the early 2010s, including its own silicon chips.
  • Other companies bet on voice: Few Big Tech firms have Apple’s hardware expertise, so they invested big on voice (e.g., Amazon’s Echo) as the new computing paradigm. It looks like the wrong bet.
  • Design expertise: People have to want to wear wearables. Apple has a track record (and talent) for creating hardware people show off for looks as much as computing power.
  • Supply chain advantage: Wearables tech is built on top of parts made for smartphones. Apple has been able to leverage lessons and relationships from its iPhone manufacturing experience.
  • Ecosystem advantage: Apple’s entry-level AirPods and Watch are both under $200. It’s able to hit these price points because the wearables effectively share computing power with the iPhone.

At the current pace, Cybart believes Apple’s wearables division will soon hit $50B a year. With a clear lead in such a fast-growing category, Apple execs must be pinching themselves.

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