Selling the Apple Watch Without a Band

Zac Hall recently wrote a piece for 9 to 5 Mac about his hope for an Apple Watch upgrade program:

Apple Watch has a lot of opportunity to get better over the next few years, though, just like the original iPhone advanced dramatically between iPhone 1 to iPhone 4. A proper Apple Watch Upgrade Program could easily encourage current owners to buy the latest hardware every year (everyone using the latest generation helps the overall product’s reputation) and encourage new customers to splurge on higher-priced models.

This would undoubtedly be a stellar idea, but what if Apple simply offered a Watch that didn’t come with a band? This would give existing Watch owners an inexpensive option for upgrading without forcing them to turn over their older model. I don’t expect Apple would be able to cut too much off the price, but having to use the bands you already own in order to save $30-40 would sound like a pretty good deal to me.

I floated the idea past Craig Hockenberry on Twitter after he wrote about his band collection, but he didn’t think Apple would do such a thing.

I would prefer that, but it doubt it will happen. They don’t sell incomplete products (e.g. Mac without a keyboard.)

The only problem with this argument is that Apple already sells plenty of “incomplete” products. The Apple TV doesn’t come with an HDMI cable; the Mac mini doesn’t come with a display, keyboard, or mouse; and neither does the Mac Pro.

Apple clearly isn’t above selling a device without everything necessary to use it and I think the Mac mini is the best example of this. On the mini’s Features page, Apple even markets the machine by specifically encouraging buyers to “bring your own display, keyboard, and mouse”. The reason Apple can get away with this is because they can safely assume that many buyers already have these items and can reuse them.

But at some point Apple could make this same assumption for Watch bands when customers upgrade from an older model. The bands that Apple offers seem incredibly durable, many Watch owners have purchased additional bands, and I doubt the current lug mechanism will be phased out anytime soon. To me, it seems like a great way for Apple to encourage upgrades from existing users.

Another criticism I could see against this idea would be the question of why anyone would want to keep their old model. But this line of thinking comes from a technology enthusiast’s perspective rather than a watch enthusiast’s perspective — watch collecting is a thing. There are entire websites dedicated to selling cases designed to hold and display watches. If Apple is serious about the Apple Watch being — not just a smartwatch, but a timepiece — this is the type of market they might want to serve.

Inexpensive band-less watches make a lot more sense the more expensive the model, too. Does someone who spent over $10,000 on a watch really want to hand it in alongside an upgrade fee for the new model? I would expect the device to hold some amount of sentimental value to its owner. As someone who recently spent several hundred dollars on a pair of wedding bands, I would never dream of giving up my ring for one with smoother edges and a shinier finish. I plan on holding onto that round hunk of metal for the rest of my life.

Remember, the Apple Watch is a piece of jewelry and a gadget — each customer is going to consider it to be one of these to varying degrees.

From a logistical standpoint, though, I could see where selling a band-less Watch could be a little tricky. Obviously Apple wouldn’t want an unsuspecting customer to purchase a band-less Watch unless they already have bands to use with it. But I think that’s the kind of problem that could easily be solved by making it painfully clear to customers on the product page and obscuring the SKU on their website ensuring that most customers won’t even find it.

I think both upgrade program proposals have their merits — I’m sure there are plenty of Watch owners that would make use of each. Personally, I think of the Apple Watch more as a piece of jewelry than as a gadget. And as a result, I place a greater amount of sentimental value on the device. When I upgrade to a future iteration of the Apple Watch, I expect I’ll keep my existing model. I just hope Apple offers an option without a band so that I can save a little money in the process.