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Maybe Apple should consider selling Apple Watch cases and bands separately

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 (opens in new tab) 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.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

8 Comments
  • Interesting proposition. In the standard world of watch collecting... when you go to a dealer you may see the same basic watch in a couple of different iterations in the showcase. One on a stainless steel bracelet and one on a leather or rubber strap, for example. If you wanted something other than what they had in stock you might have to special order it. That might present a similar issue for Apple resellers who don't have the capacity of holding large amounts of straps or bracelets in stock to sell the watch case and strap or bracelet separately. For example, I purchased my Series 2 from T-Mobile when no one else had any in stock, including Apple themselves. I had to take what they had... the Space Gray Aluminum on the black silicone strap. End of story. Lucky for me I actually wanted the Space Gray Aluminum case... so no issue. I have since purchased several, third party, straps for the watch as I am not sure I want to pay Apples price points. (But that is another story!) If you purchase the Apple Watch from Apple directly, then I can certainly see how they would have the capacity to offer the watch case at "X"$ and the strap or bracelet separately. But like you said, this would be most certainly a nightmare if ordered on the Apple Store site in terms of the logistics. In-store, is where I think this would work. Aside from having to carry a much larger stock of every strap and bracelet, the customer could go in, pick the case of their choice and then pair it with the strap or bracelet they really want. So if feasible, Apple might have to limit this purchasing option to Apple retail stores only. Trust me, I would have loved nothing more than to have walked into my Apple store and picked up the Space Gray Series 2 on the blue leather loop without having to purchase it separately and have a silicone strap that I never wear.
  • This is an easy solution. The watch and the bands are separately boxed, but when you buy a watch you have to pick a band. This would be similar to choosing a wired or magic mouse when buying a computer from apple. They already have the store capabilities to do this.
  • One issue however.... what if someone only wants the watch and not a strap or bracelet. They may want to buy 3rd party alternatives off the web. Does Apple force you to buy a band as well. This could get glitchy.
  • No! that would be silly! However, the need to sell a smaller box of the Apple Watch boxes to store our bands collection!
  • I'd love that. Of course Apple will lose $48 on every watch sold without the overpriced sports band. I want a black ss, with a leather band, but I can't see paying $700 plus for a leather band that was crafted by an artesian, that is paid 15 cents per band. My $30 Timex has a leather band, albeit it's not a Hermes band. But as far as I know, Hermes doesn't use leather from Wagyu cows from the Kobe region of Japan, even though they are priced like they do.
  • They won't do this. You can't use the aWatch without a strap. So if it's your first aWatch, and you don't get a strap for whatever reason you won't be able to use the watch. They don't sell iMacs or MacBooks without a keyboard or mouse. I know they sell the Mac mini & Mac Pro that way, but look how much love & attention those get; they are the exception.
    ALSO, we all know they sell the rubber strap for $50 a la carte. Therefore we would expect a strapless aWatch to be $50 less than current prices. Apple would never reduce price by that much. We all know that rubber strap should not cost $50, and Apple would surely like to avoid exposing the real cost of that. So, I'd rather get SOMETHING in the "bundle" price, even if it were just whichever strap is cheapest for them to make, then accessorize as needed later. Sent from the iMore App
  • They should sell watches with pre-selected straps and have enough stock without straps attached for in-store customizers.
  • I think this is a good idea. I have a first gen stainless steel and just bought a very gently used Nike Watch that came with 8 bands that added to my existing 7 bands. Provided I upgrade to Watch 3 at some point and the bands are compatible I'd love to just buy the watch and roll with the bands i've got for $50 less