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Why the Apple watch is disruptive

A lot has been said about all the fun things the Apple watch can do for you (show you the gain on your stock portfolio, let you know when your Uber car is close) and very little on the information you provide to it, like reading your vital signs and suggesting a movie or retail therapy when your biometric data says you are low. It’s this trove of highly personalised data which has Apple and the app development community salivating: remember, you don’t have to buy the internet (ie it’s ‘free’) because it’s the internet which is selling you. And think about how Facebook started as a personal communication tool, but is now very highly-prized as an advertising platform.

Apple has said that it won’t sell your data, and that is true, to a point. Apple doesn’t sell data on you, or your friends, family, location etc. But platforms like Google, when accessed on their devices, do.

Apps include more data about you

Few people have ever really turned their minds to the question of why so many companies push their apps rather than just their web experience, but the reason is that when the app is chosen, it just about always includes much more data about you than just the web version. You can confirm this is the case by reading the terms and conditions (you knew there was a reason you should read these, right?)

Which brings us back to the biometric data. It’s early, obviously, to be making accurate predictions of what the Apple Watch means, disruption-wise, but the hard-heads in Apple have already made available the system developer kit to app designers so they can work out how to milk your biometric data.

And just like Instagram, Facebook, Google and the like, the real commercial value of the Apple watch will be in the new types of data which it makes available. What sort of data? How excited or tired you are (through the heart rate monitor), and how active you are. How would this be useful? Very active people could get a discount on their health insurance, with insurance companies using it as a marketing tool to pick up new customers.

Or how about this? Excitement levels during movies and television shows. What makes you sweat, and your heart race, and when do you feel sad during a movie or television programme. Who wants this? Well, obviously movie and television programme producers. The in-built microphone on the watch knows (through media recognition app Shazam) what programme you are watching, and when (replay, live etc), and your reactions to it. Or how about medical device companies which want to monitor your sleep patterns to provide better quality, more expensive sleep apnoea masks which work with the data the watch provides. And how about the medical research groups which require large scale, prolonged data to assess particular aspects of health?

The point is not to try and work out the different iterations of the applications themselves. Significant resources will almost certainly be devoted to this, with Apple helping to drive the process. The point is that the watch, strapped as it is to your skin, makes available a slew of data on you that has never really been available before. And it’s this data which is likely to form part of the next wave of disruption.

Of course, to the consumer, it will just be a sexy new gadget, with functionality including a pay-wave through Apple Pay, talk and text, a buzz function to get you along to the next meeting, and all the rest of the interesting, convenient and fun stuff. And that’s half the point. It has to be a must-have device in the first place to become meaningful in the installed-base sense, at which point it can become a mass marketing tool like a biometric version of Google or Facebook. And then the disruption starts.

The market will judge its success

What’s it worth on the Apple stock price? The average predicted sales from Wall Street analysts is 23.25 million Apple watches sold. At around US$1000 each (there are gold watches being sold too) that works out at $23.3 billion in sales. Assuming a gross margin of 40%, this would be pre-tax earnings of US$9.3 billion, which at the company’s multiple of 9.9x (yes, it's less than Telstra, as we noted here) works out at US$92 billion, or US$15.80 per share – this is the value already built in to the stock price. If the watch fails, the Apple stock price will fall by at least that much. And the stock won’t really move if there is a perception that 23 million units is the correct number for first year sales. But if it is ahead of that, the stock will pop, with each 23 million units worth an incremental US$15.80 per share. A little over 10% a share. And that could get your heart racing …


Alex Pollak is CEO of Loftus Peak, a fund manager that specialises in listed global portfolios for SMSFs. Disclosure: The author and Loftus Peak clients own Apple shares. This article is general information and does not consider the personal circumstances of any investor.


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