I'm going to preface this with a simple statement: Inventory management is hard. Once the undisputed king of operations and channel inventory, Apple has had its ups and downs over the last few years when it comes to shipping products on time — and the Apple Watch, arguably, kicked off that trend.
The "Series 0" Apple Watch launched with multiple casing sizes, band combinations, and casing materials, leading to dozens of individual SKUs that a customer could order. And those SKUs took their toll on Apple's operations department: It took months to ship all the watch pre-orders, in part due to random Italian leather shortages and the difficulty in anodizing "space black" steel. Thus, it's no surprise to see that after continued watch inventory delays (among Apple's other accessories — hi, AirPods), the company has chosen to pare down its initial Apple Watch options when purchasing a new watch and band combination.
There are now just 8 core Series 2 casing-and-band options (4 for Series 1); 2 Nike; 6 Hermés; and the singular Edition. Add in the casing sizes, and you still have 30 different SKUs to keep track of — but it's a far cry from Apple's earlier, multicolor banded Watch SKU days.
But this choice, while likely better in the long run for Apple's operations department (and their workers' sanity), isn't necessarily the best option for consumers. Limiting watch band selection during initial Watch purchase forces you to pay for a look you might not want — and, if you happen to want a watch that requires matching lugs without having to do the legwork yourself, limits your fashion choices significantly.
Of course, there's an alternative, though Apple may not like it: The company could start selling watch casings and bands separately.
It's not a path that fashion watchmakers would follow — the band pairing is part of the art of the watch, after all. But as much as Apple's design ethos follows that of a fashion house, the company might benefit from adopting a more modular style. I'm sure Apple has crunched numbers and decided such an undertaking would be more of a hassle than its current multi-SKU system. But hey — it doesn't hurt to dream.
After all, there's already has a wonderful interactive watch gallery that lets you pair any casing with any available band and face; surely, the company could come up with an elegant way to ship two modular components together rather than continue with paired bands. (In addition, it would give upgraders a better path to get a new watch, rather than get a duplicate of the band they might already own.)
Will Apple consider modular watch shipping in the future? I doubt it. But as a frequent updater and band addict, I'm going to hope for it, all the same.
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