Tim Cook Sounds Desperate Talking About the Apple Watch

This afternoon’s Apple event offered further hints that the much-hyped product has disappointed.

Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

No one outside Apple knows how many Apple Watches the company has sold since the product was released this past April, but in recent months there have been signs that sales have been disappointing.

On Apple’s August earnings call, Tim Cook was cagey about reporting concrete sales numbers for the Apple Watch, opting instead to include them in the “Other” category that includes Beats headphones, the iPod, and other accessories. And in July, a key Taiwanese parts supplier for the Apple Watch reported lower-than-expected volume for the third quarter, and low expectations for the fourth.

This afternoon’s Apple event offered further hints that the much-hyped watch has disappointed. The first has to do with sequencing. As the first product discussed, the Apple Watch was the undercard, the warm-up act for Apple’s more popular offerings. More notable, though, was the substantively fuzzy, but otherwise extravagant language Apple executives used when discussing the watch. “For many people, the Apple Watch has been life-changing!” Cook said at one point. “We’re on an incredible pace of innovation!”

Apple usually likes to point to tangible successes when introducing its products. When Cook started in on his iPhone pitch, he led with its swelling international market share, bragging about growth in emerging markets, especially China. “These are the most popular phones in the world!” he said.

We didn't hear numbers like that during the Apple Watch presentation, although Cook did say that customer satisfaction with the watch was “an incredible 97 percent.” That figure comes from a survey conducted by Wristly back in July that found 66 percent of Apple Watch owners “very satisfied” with their purchase, and 31 percent “somewhat satisfied.”

The worst moment came after Cook brought Jeff Williams onstage to explain Apple’s forthcoming updates to the watch. Williams seemed nervous throughout his presentation. After a guest demo'd a new medical feature, he asked twice, and with more than a hint of desperation, “Isn't that great?!”

Maybe that’s unfair. It’s tough to pitch any product in front of the entire tech press, and a decent portion of its high-end consumers. But remember, the Apple Watch is the first flagship product released during Tim Cook’s reign at Apple. If the sales are weak, you have to wonder what the internal meetings are like. Especially since, compared with today’s iPad, Apple TV, and iPhone presentations, the Apple Watch segment just seemed thirsty.