In the early days of developing the first Apple Watch, the company faced some interesting challenges that actually went beyond the technology, resulting in thousands of units having to be scrapped and explaining some of the reasons why Apple’s debut wearable was in short supply for the first few months after its release.
An article from Bloomberg profiling Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams and his status as Tim Cook’s heir apparent, shares some details about Williams’ role in the development of the Apple Watch, where he gained the bulk of the experience that he will now be bringing to bear in filling the shoes of recently-departed Chief Design Officer Jony Ive.
Williams who was primarily a logistics expert, rose through the ranks of Apple in the days when Steve Jobs was still at the helm to ultimately become Tim Cook’s chief lieutenant in operations, and later step into Cook’s position when the latter became the new CEO. While heading up Apple Watch design and development was an unusual role for someone with Williams’ background, he had reportedly championed the smartwatch to be positioned primarily as a health tool, and it turns out that it was Williams’ logistical expertise that very likely saved the Apple Watch from a potentially embarrassing launch.
Several months prior to the release of the original Apple Watch back in 2015, Williams had numerous employees wearing the device on a daily basis for internal testing. In the process, he discovered that some actually encountered allergic reactions to the specific type of nickel that was being used in the casing.
As a result, Williams made the tough decision to scrap thousands of Apple Watches that had already been produced and were being prepared to go on sale, and instead ramped up a new manufacturing line to produce a different type of nickel. Williams also similarly canceled the shipment of another few thousand watches when it was discovered that the taptic engines on them could fail over the long term due to corrosion.
Although these decisions helped guarantee a more successful product when it finally did launch, it also created a product shortage at the initial launch due to the number of Apple Watches that were in fact pulled prior to going on sale. Still, in what is likely a testament to Williams operations skills, Apple’s ability to quickly course-correct resulted in the company doing a surprisingly good job of keeping up with demand in the months that followed.
The Strange Tale of the Gold Apple Watch
The article also reveals another interesting — although perhaps not surprising — detail about the insanely expensive Apple Watch Edition — the one that was made out of 18-karat gold and sold for as much as $17,000.
This was obviously intended on one level to be Apple’s answer to the Rolex, but sales numbers made it pretty obvious that it was a token gesture at best, with sales in the “low tens of thousands” that dropped to almost zero after the first two weeks that it was on the market. Apple of course discontinued the Gold Edition version the following year, ironically leaving the most expensive Apple Watch ever sold stuck on watchOS 4 and now becoming obsolete.
Of course, it also now seems obvious that the real reason that Apple produced the Gold Apple Watch Edition was simply to impress the fashion industry and gain the necessary credibility for the Apple Watch to be taken seriously in a realm dominated by brands like Rolex, Breguet, and Patek Philippe. While Williams may have been the final authority on the Apple Watch project back in 2013, there’s no doubt at all that Apple’s newly-minted Retail Chief, Angela Ahrendts, had brought some of her Burberry background to the table, not to mention that Apple had also recently hired on former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve and Tag Heuer’s Patrix Pruniaux.
Although it’s unlikely that the Apple Watch would have ever graced the cover of Vogue and other fashion magazines had Apple not offered an ostentatious 18-karat gold version, once that was over, Williams and crew clearly got back down to more practical aspects, realizing that the need to continue impressing the rather fickle fashion industry wasn’t nearly as important as producing a wearable that could offer groundbreaking health and fitness technology.
Despite these early missteps, most of which never saw the light of day, there’s no doubt that the Apple Watch has become a major success for the company — it’s now bigger than Rolex, the brand that it once tried to emulate — and it’s repeatedly credited for not only improving people’s health and wellbeing, but actually saving people’s lives on a pretty regular basis.