How well is the Apple Watch selling? Tim Cook remains mum

CEO has plenty to say about iPhone and how happy people are with the company's first smartwatch, but he doesn't tell us anything about Apple Watch sales so far.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
3 min read

Apple Watch became available Friday. James Martin/CNET

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Monday didn't give analysts and investors the one thing they wanted -- Apple Watch sales data.

Apple in October said it wouldn't break out Apple Watch sales, but many hoped the company would give some details about first-weekend sales as it has tended to do for iPhones. The smartwatch, which hit the market Friday, ranges in price from $349 for the aluminum sport version to $17,000 for the 18-karat-gold model. The device requires an iPhone 5 or newer to run basic apps and receive notifications and comes in 38 different combinations. Preoders for the device started April 10, and for now, Apple's only accepting orders online.

Cook tends to use phrases like "amazing," "staggering" and unprecedented" when describing new product launches. But when it came to the Apple Watch on the company's fiscal second-quarter earnings call with analysts on Monday, he sounded a little more muted. Cook largely danced around questions about the company's first smartwatch, only saying customer response has been "overwhelmingly positive," he's "really happy" with where Apple is currently, and Apple's moving as quickly as it can to meet demand.

"Right now demand is greater than supply so we are working hard to remedy that," Cook said during the earnings call. "I'm generally happy how we're moving on with the ramp."

Toni Sacconaghi, a well-respected Apple analyst with Bernstein Research, asked Cook about what seemed like a lack of Apple Watch enthusiasm: "Relative to other product launches where your commentary around demand was characterized by superlative after superlative, that assessment [saying you are 'generally happy'] feels very modest," he said.

"I'm thrilled with it," Cook said. "So I don't want you to read anything I'm saying any other way other than that...I feel really great about it. The customer response literally from what I've seen is 100 percent positive, and so it's hard to imagine it being better."

The Apple Watch, which the company calls its "most personal device yet," is a very different gadget for Apple, which has tended to offer a limited number of models in its product lines. The company also is selling the Apple Watch differently, limiting the device to online sales only for the foreseeable future. That has caused some confusion for customers and has prevented the long lines common at Apple product launches.

The Apple Watch rollout is a major test for Cook, who needs to show that the company can still create lust-worthy, must-have products in new categories. The last time it did that was in 2010 with the "magical" iPad tablet, which was ushered to market by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs before he died the following year. Jobs also moved Apple, originally known as the maker of the Macintosh computer, into the smartphone market with the iPhone in 2007. Apple also has to reduce its reliance on the iPhone, which has accounted for nearly 70 percent of sales for the past two quarters.

Watch this: We destroyed the Apple Watch

It's likely tough for Apple to detail just how many devices it has sold so far. The smartwatch has been backordered since presales started April 10, and many would-be buyers won't receive their Apple Watches until June or even July. It's unclear how much of the delay is due to overwhelming demand and how much is because of supply shortages and manufacturing issues.

Research firm Slice Intelligence on Sunday estimated only 22 percent of US customers who preordered the Apple Watch received their devices in the first weekend it was available.

Cook noted that Apple has been notifying customers about earlier shipping dates, and Apple believes "by some time in late June, we currently anticipate being in a position that we could begin to "="" shortcode="link" asset-type="article" uuid="2266ea3e-516f-41a4-b406-fa0fdd68c718" slug="apple-ceo-sees-watch-hitting-additional-countries-in-late-june" link-text="sell the Apple Watch in additional countries." section="news" title="Apple's Cook sees Watch hitting more countries in late June" edition="us" data-key="link_bulk_key">

While Apple isn't breaking out Apple Watch numbers, analysts expect the device to dwarf other smartwatch sales. Some analysts estimate more than 2 million Apple watches were preordered in the two weeks leading up to the April 24 launch. All other smartwatch vendors combined shipped only 4.6 million devices in all of 2014, according to Strategy Analytics.

The firm believes Apple will ship 15.4 million Apple Watch units in 2015, giving the company 54.8 percent of the global smartwatch market and bumping Samsung to No. 2. The Apple Watch could help raise awareness for other watches, bringing total smartwatch shipments this year to 28.1 million.

Overall, Apple on Monday blew away Wall Street expectations for its fiscal second quarter, which ended March 28, as iPhone and Mac sales set a record for the period. Apple also reported all-time record performance for its App Store and forecast strong sales for the current period.

Strength in emerging markets -- especially Greater China, which passed the US to become the company's biggest iPhone market and passed Europe to become Apple's second-biggest sales market overall -- buoyed the company's financial results.

"It was an incredible quarter," Cook said.

Apple Watch: A hands-on tour of Apple's first smartwatch (pictures)

See all photos