Watches had been around for a long time before we started wearing Apple's version, but it took only a few years for the Apple Watch to become the most popular wearable timepiece on earth. That's according to a new report from research firm Strategy Analytics, which says that Apple shipped almost 31 million units last year, while the entire Swiss watch industry shipped a little over 21 million.
Like the iPhone, which essentially created an entirely new category of device, the Apple Watch was something completely different than what we had been wearing for generations. Sure, there were cellphones before the iPhone, but there were very few that we would have called smartphones, and almost none that actually deserved that name.
The Apple Watch, on the other hand (no pun intended), is a watch only in the sense that you wear it on your wrist and it will display the time. Beyond that, it has far more in common with your iPhone than something made by Rolex or Tag Heuer.
Back in 2015 when the Apple Watch was first introduced, Jean-Claude Biver, the CEO of Tag Heuer, downplayed its chances of success, asking in an interview with CNBC, "Can it be repaired in 1,000 years or can it be repaired in 80 years? Can your children wear the watch? No, because it won't work anymore. The technology will be gone."
Now, Swiss watchmakers are releasing their own smartwatches, with mixed results. In reality, the appeal of the Apple Watch has as much to do with its connection with the overall watchOS and iOS ecosystem as its being the piece of hardware you wear on your wrist.
In fact, the biggest reason that the Apple Watch has been so successful is that it has changed the way we think about wristwatches. No longer is it meant solely as a timepiece or fashion accessory, but as something we use and depend on throughout the day for a range of tasks and activities.
Watches simply aren't a status symbol in the way they used to be. I'm sure there are plenty of horologists and watch aficionados who would disagree, but many younger workers don't pay as much attention. Especially since most of them are wearing an Apple Watch.
A Wall Street Journal report last year noted:
In the past, one's shoes, one's suits and, yes, one's watch spoke volumes about one's place at work. Even though some believe status watches still send signals, today's office has drastically evolved: CEOs wear sneakers and tell time with their smartphones; many people work remotely; wristwatches are less commonly remarked upon.
Instead of serving primarily as a way to tell time, the Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone in many ways. It delivers reminders, manages our calendar, gives us directions, and allows us to interface with apps that we use every day without our having to pull our phone out of our pocket.
Even the most advanced mechanical watch can't remind you to pick up dinner as you leave work, or give you directions to the restaurant. You can quibble with whether a mechanical watch is a better long-term investment or a better piece of machinery, but you can't argue with the fact that the reason most people wear something on their wrist has changed.
The Apple Watch has become as much a health and wellness device as anything else. In fact, last year, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, told CNBC's Jim Cramer, "If you zoom out into the future, and you look back, and you ask the question, 'What was Apple's greatest contribution to mankind?' it will be about health."
Apple's combination of technology and software means that the watch is in a unique position to track your activity. That's because a watch isn't something you carry in your pocket but wear on your wrist, meaning, it has a connection--literally--to your body. That connection has opened up all types of opportunities to help people measure activity, heart rate, and even take an electrocardiograph. Not even the priciest Patek Philippe can do that.