Sports sells gatorade, and sports sells sneakers, and sports sells clothing and hats and TV trays and bottle openers and anything that has enough surface area to hold a logo. But can sports sell the concept of the smartwatch? That’s what Apple might find out beginning in October, the rumored launch date of the iWatch, according to a new report from 9to5Mac. The blog’s sources say Apple is working with professional athletes to test the fitness tracking features of the upcoming device, and it’s only logical that if they’re helping inform product design, Apple should tap them for promotion, too.
The stars working with Apple include Kobe Bryant, Dustin Brown of the LA Kings, and other unnamed stars from top U.S. pro sports organizations. 9to5Mac also says that the iWatch is being developed as a fashion piece, to ship in two different designs, with an announcement in October and a ship date soon after. The report echoes one earlier today from the Wall Street Journal, which said it would include fitness tracking and be unveiled in October, too.
Building wearables so far has proven a challenge, at least in terms of making something that sells with the kind of volume that makes them worthwhile for a company like Apple. The top-selling smartwatches to date are the Samsung Gear line, and 2 million total smartwatch devices were sold last year according to Strategy Analytics, of which 1.2 million were Android powered. Apple, by contrast, is shooting for first year sales of between 50 and 60 million units for its device alone, according to reports from media outlets including WSJ and Reuters.
To sell the devices, turning to the age-old marketing machine that is professional sports is a logical path. Apple is said to be packing a heap of sensors into this device (10 to be exact) and working with Nike on the fitness features. Traditionally, if you create something that has a ‘performance’ or activity angle, turning to pro athletes for a marketing push delivers huge dividends – Gatorade, and every other sports drink on the market, likely wouldn’t exist without the influence of celebrity endorsements.
Apple hasn’t leaned too heavily on the celebrity angle for promoting its past products, at least not directly. Instead, it has used a comprehensive media strategy of helping Apple products find their way naturally into films, TV shows and celebrity pockets, along with a few select endorsements via television ads and media spots. But it has acquired a company recently that could help with this kind of market positioning: Beats.
Beats doesn’t really make sports accessories – but you’d be forgiven for thinking they do. Their advertising campaign around the World Cup is one example of how well they’ve been able to tie their headphones to athletes and athletics. Nevermind the fact that Beats on- and over-ear headphones are pretty much the opposite of what you want on your head while you’re running five miles or training for a triathlon. They share the same basic design as earmuffs, which are made to keep heat in your head. True, Beats makes wireless earbuds, too with the Powerbeats line but they’ve managed to give the whole brand sports cache.
There is no evidence that a smartwatch will pack people into stores, Apple-made or not. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest an Apple-built sports and fitness/fashion accessory will sell and sell well. Apple wouldn’t be the only company trying to use fashion as a selling point for wearables, but it might be the one with the best angle yet.