Strategic management

Case study

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Tania Bucic and Gaganpreet Singh wrote this case solely to provide material for class discussion. The authors do not intend to
illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of a managerial situation. The authors may have disguised certain names and other
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Copyright © 2018, Ivey Business School Foundation Version: 2020-11-13

Apple Inc. (Apple), one of the most innovative companies in the world, embarked on a brand
extension strategy to enter different industries. After affirming its place in the computer, phone, and
music markets, Apple shifted its focus to wearable technologies,2 including Apple Watch, which
launched in April 2015. The watch integrated fitness and other health-related capabilities with Apple’s
mobile operating system (iOS) and other Apple products and services. Because Apple owned the
necessary hardware, software, and services that were augmented through its ecosystem, the watch was
virtually inimitable.3 The innovation thus appeared poised to be a true game changer.

However, in mid-2016, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, acknowledged that Apple Watch had
not created quite the market impact Apple had expected. Quantitatively, Apple Watch recorded 55 per cent
lower sales in the second quarter of 2016 than in the previous year (see Exhibit 1), suffering from restricted
product utility, high prices, low perceived value, limited social acceptability, and late market entry.4 The
concerns appeared even more problematic for consumers in developing countries, who had less
disposable income than those in developed economies. Yet Apple had already been strategizing to expand
its presence in developing countries in response to stagnant growth prospects for Apple’s traditional
products in developed economies.5

Apple management had limited options. One proposal was to reconfigure the marketing mix to realign
Apple’s marketing strategy to reduce resistance to Apple Watch.


The wearables industry included fitness bands and smart eyewear as well as smartwatches,
which constituted the leading product category and accounting for 59 per cent of total wearable device
shipments in 2016. This share was estimated to exceed 70 per cent by 2019. The global wearable industry
as a whole appeared poised to increase by a compound annual rate of 35 per cent over the coming few

The high-tech, computerized watches were positioned to go beyond traditional timekeeping, offering
extended utilities, such as making calls, sending messages, and surfing the Internet, by incorporating
operating systems that could combine multiple functions in the small devices. Continued innovation

resulted in great strides in the smartwatch market, especially relative to the first commercially
successful smartwatch, the Pebble,

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launched through Kickstarter in 2012. The five common smartwatch platforms included Apple’s watchOS,
Tizen, Pebble OS, Android, and Android Wear (an Android spinoff).7 Of the five, the watchOS became the
most popular, with a momentum that was expected to persist, while Android Wear remained in second place
(see Exhibit 2). The “finely tuned design, the use of premium materials, the fluid software and the luxury feel”
of Apple Watch and its watchOS platform gave Apple a competitive edge.8


Apple Watch was the first product produced during Cook’s leadership period. A year later, in mid-2016,
the company launched a second generation of the watch. Besides its primary timekeeping function, the
watch was designed to link to other iOS devices, such as the iPhone, to push and receive content. Yet
consumer responses differed, such that, “For many it [was] an abhorrent square wrist-computer, devoid of
any style. To others it [was] sleek, opulent and classy.”9 Apple also sought to position the watch as an
alternative to a fitness tracker;10 the second-generation updates were strongly oriented toward advanced
fitness and health-related capabilities. The watch’s water resistance helped expand its target audience by
making the watch useful for swimmers, surfers, and others participating in water sports.11 At the launch of
the second generation watch, Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, proclaimed,

We’re thrilled with the response to Apple Watch and how it’s changed people’s lives. We are
committed to fitness and health and think our customers will love the new capabilities of Apple
Watch Series 2. With a powerful new dual-core processor, water resistance [to] 50 meters and built-
in GPS, Apple Watch Series 2 is packed with features to help our customers live a healthy life.12

Similar to the original Apple Watch, the Series 2 offered a choice of a lower-priced aluminum sport version,
available in silver, gold, space black, and rose gold, or a mid-priced stainless steel version, available in
silver and space black (see Exhibit 3). In addition, the Series 2 added the option of a high-end, glossy white,
ceramic model. Apple also collaborated with Hermès and Nike to offer exclusive software, bands, and
watch faces, attempting to make the watch into a “killer device,” even without a “killer app.”13


Although not the first smartwatch to hit the market, Apple Watch was different.14 Its value could be
measured with a scientific metric: an economic value estimation (EVE), which reflected the combination
of reference value—the equivalent value offered by the next best alternative—and the differentiating
value—the distinctiveness of the product, which could be either positive or negative.15 For smartwatches,
the reference value varied across target markets, which could be classified broadly into potential buyers
who still wore traditional watches and those accustomed to using smartwatches who had adopted other
platforms (for example, Android Wear). The latter already had overcome any potential resistance to wearing
technology, but potential adopters posed a challenge.

When compared with a traditional watch, the reference value offered by Apple Watch included its ability to
act as a regular, accurate timepiece. The immense differentiating value encompassed multiple dimensions.
For example, the smartwatch offered easy access to common activities that users likely already undertook,
such as making calls with electronic devices, which was enabled in Apple Watch with a voice calling feature.
Texting, another common activity, also became easier because Apple Watch allowed users simply to tap their
wrists to respond quickly to incoming messages. The watch also gave wearers a quick visual summary of
information they had selected as important (notifications). Its ability to function as a navigator, pinging
directions to a chosen location while the user was en route, was unanticipated from a wristwatch.

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Categorically, Apple Watch sought to function in the shadow of the iPhone,16 while also supporting the digital
wallet service offered through Apple Pay, which transformed the watch into a mobile wallet.

However, Apple emphasized the watch’s ability to act as a fitness tracker as its core differentiating value.
In pursuit of discerning value, Apple managed to develop powerful health and fitness applications,
integrating data captured by sensors built into both iPhones and Apple Watches. It embraced programs such
as HealthKit, ResearchKit, and CareKit, which enabled consumers to monitor their personal health, support
medical research, and help identify appropriate care for medical conditions.17 Such value led Cook to
anticipate that “one day, this is my prediction, we will look back and we will wonder: How can I ever have
gone without the watch? Because the holy grail of the watch is being able to monitor more and more of
what’s going on in the body.”18


Resistance, an active behaviour that appeared in every adoption process, could take three forms: outright
rejection, postponement, or opposition. It did not always lead to non-adoption or rejection.19 Initial market
research revealed a mixed response to Apple Watch: in the target market, a few rejected it and several
opposed it, but many were prepared to adopt it in the future.20 Apple thus anticipated that market acceptance
for upcoming versions would increase, due to the immense value offered. An industry reporter described
the broad value of the watch as follows:

The Apple Watch is actually more like a framework or series of products than a single product.
Whereas, previously, Apple’s new product launches have centred around single monolithic models
(some of which were later extended, as in the case of the iPad Mini or iPhone 5C), the Apple Watch
debuts with a dizzying range of aesthetic and functional options, resulting in millions of possible
permutations. . . .

With the debut of [Apple] Watch, Apple is making a major move into the health-monitoring space
pioneered by devices like Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband and Fitbit. . . .

Apple is also betting that [Apple] Watch will become a remote control for the growing range of
Internet-enabled devices—the so-called “Internet of Things”—in the home and beyond. . . . [T]he
Apple Watch will also incorporate near-field communication (or NFC, the technology used in London
Transport’s Oyster cards or contactless bank cards, for example) to enable easy mobile payment. With
Apple Pay, . . . Apple’s stated vision is to replace the wallet. Indeed, with hundreds of millions of
credit cards already on file, Apple could well become the definitive mobile payment system.21

However, industry experts suggested that “consumers don’t actually see the need for [smartwatches]. The
reality is the phone pretty much does everything you want.”22 This inability to realize the value of the watch
was likely the result of an information asymmetry between Apple and its potential customers. Without a
change, the problem would only grow: uninformed buyers would continue to be reluctant to pay a price
premium for a differentiating value they did not understand. The cascading impact challenged Apple’s
leadership; the company needed to draft a more meaningful value proposition and supporting
communication strategy that could reduce the information asymmetry and improve buyers’ willingness to
pay the positive price differential to obtain an Apple Watch.

The presence of all three forms of resistance—rejection, postponement, and opposition—made Apple’s
challenge particularly complex. Rejection, as the most extreme form of resistance, could prompt an organization
to enter a modification and relaunch process, hoping that the improved product would be accepted or at least not

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rejected outright.23 The nature of consumer resistance varied depending on the attributes of the innovation;
therefore, to proactively manage the threat of potential consumer resistance, Apple needed to consider various
consumer and innovation characteristics when developing future Apple watches.

Postponement—a very common form of resistance—allowed potential customers to delay their adoption
of an innovation. These customers were a prime target for Apple; it was imperative to encourage them to
try Apple Watch, and using external (non-Apple) sources of motivation or propagation mechanisms might
be useful in providing arm’s-length enticement to try the product.24

Finally, resistance could arise at either a pre- or post-persuasion stage, which made marketing even more
difficult. In the post-persuasion stage, a negative attitudinal outcome—referred to as active innovation
resistance—followed an unfavourable evaluation of a new product.25 Broadly, this type of resistance was a
result of two main causes: first, potential customers considered the device to have low value due to its
limited utility; and second, customers could be unable to change their established traditions and norms, and
thus, their resulting perception of the watch. The problem of limited utility constituted functional barriers,
which consisted of the derived value, usage patterns, and risks associated with the device. The problem
with adhering to established traditions and norms revealed psychological barriers.26

In the pre-persuasion stage, consumers could be predisposed to resist innovation; this was referred to as
passive innovation resistance. This type of resistance was driven mainly by two factors: an “adopter-specific
inclination to resist changes” or a “situation-specific status quo satisfaction.”27

Reducing the impact of both types of innovation resistance was vital for Apple. Both barriers were
consumer specific; thus, the intensity of the barriers or sources varied across consumer segments. This
variation segregated potential consumers into multiple groups, further complicating the challenge for
Apple. Managing the individual resistance of each group with separate communication strategies then
became central to Apple’s revamped approach for managing resistance to its smartwatch.


To maintain a global leadership position, Apple needed to strengthen its market share in both developed
and developing economies. It also needed the ability to manage multiple challenges that were likely to
create obstructions. For innovative products, a major task always revolved around managing resistance.
The associated challenges spread across multiple dimensions and included incorporating desired innovation
characteristics in future generations of the watch; managing consumer characteristics that could influence
resistance; drafting value propositions and accompanying configurations of the marketing mix to shape
communication strategies that showcased the superior value created by Apple Watch; and formulating
marketing strategies and tactics to overcome these resistance barriers.

Tania Bucic is an associate professor at University of New South Wales.
Gaganpreet Singh is an assistant professor at OP Jindal Global University.

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Vendor 2Q 2015 Unit

2Q 2015
Market Share

2Q 2016 Unit

2Q 2016
Market Share

Year Growth

Apple 3.6 72% 1.6 47% −55%
Samsung 0.4 7% 0.6 16% 51%
Lenovo 0.2 3% 0.3 9% 75%
LG 0.2 4% 0.3 8% 26%
Garmin 0.1 2% 0.1 4% 25%
Others 0.6 11% 0.6 16% −1%
Total 5.1 100% 3.5 100% −32%

Notes: *Unit shipments are in millions; the comparison refers to the second quarters (2Q) of 2016 and 2015.
Source: Created by the author based on Joe Rossignol, “Apple Watch Remains Nearly Three Times as Popular as Samsung
Smartwatches,” MacRumors, July 21, 2016, accessed October 19, 2016,


Smartwatch OS 2016 Units* 2016 Share 2020 Units* 2020 Share 2016–2020 CAGR
watchOS 14.0 49.4% 31.0 37.6% 22%
Android Wear 6.1 21.4% 28.8 35.0% 48%
RTOS 1.4 5.0% 8.3 10.1% 56%
Tizen 3.2 11.3% 5.4 6.6% 14%
Android 1.0 3.6% 4.3 5.2% 44%
Linux 0.6 2.3% 2.3 2.8% 37%
Pebble OS 2.0 7.0% 2.2 2.7% 3%
Total 28.3 100.0% 82.5 100.0% 31%

Notes: *Units are in millions; CAGR = compound annual growth rate; OS = operating system.
Source: Created by the author based on Joe Rossignol, “Apple Watch Remains Nearly Three Times as Popular as Samsung
Smartwatches,” MacRumors, July 21, 2016, accessed October 19, 2016,

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38 mm 42 mm
Category Band Case Price


White Silver Aluminum 449 519
Blue Silver Aluminum 449 519
Green Silver Aluminum 449 519
Pink Silver Aluminum 449 519

Low Priced

Black Black Aluminum 449 519
White Sport Stainless Steel 699 779
Black Sport Stainless Steel 699 779
Classic Buckle Stainless Steel 849 919
Milanese Loop Stainless Steel 849 919
Black Leather Loop Stainless Steel NA 919
Blue Leather Loop Stainless Steel NA 919
Stone Leather Loop Stainless Steel NA 919
Light Brown Leather Loop Stainless Steel NA 919
Black Modern Buckle Stainless Steel 749 NA
Midnight Modern Buckle Stainless Steel 749 NA
Soft Pink Modern Buckle Stainless Steel 749 NA
Brown Modern Buckle Stainless Steel 749 NA
Stainless Steel Link Stainless Steel 949 1,299


Space Black Stainless Steel Link Stainless Steel 1,049 1,459
White Sport Rose Gold 10,000 15,500
Black Sport Yellow Gold 10,000 15,500
Black Classic Buckle Yellow Gold NA 19,000
Blue Classic Buckle Yellow Gold NA 19,000
Rose Grey Modern Buckle Rose Gold 22,000 NA

High Priced

Bright Red Modern Buckle Yellow Gold 22,000 NA

Source: Extracted from Gary Ng, “All Apple Watch Models Compared: Canadian Price Matrix [PIC],” iPhone in Canada, March
11, 2015, accessed November 19, 2017,

Page 7 9B18A005


1 This case has been written on the basis of published sources only. Consequently, the interpretation and perspectives
presented in this case are not necessarily those of Apple Inc. or any of its employees.
2 Scott Anthony and Michael Putz, “The Industries Apple Could Disrupt Next,” Harvard Business Review, June 4, 2014,
accessed October 9, 2016,; Tim Bajarin, “Apple Is About to
Change the Watch Industry Forever,” Time, March 23, 2015, accessed October 9, 2016,
3 Mr. Playne [pseud.], “The New Apple Watch Version 2.0,” Mayge (blog), June 12, 2016, accessed October 10, 2016,; Bajarin, op. cit.
4 Adam Toobin, “Apple CEO Tim Cook Predicts Apple Watch ‘Holy Grail’ Will Be Healthcare,” Inverse, May 24, 2016, accessed
September 15, 2016,;
Tim Bradshaw, “Apple Watch Sales Fall 55% as Consumers Mark Time on Category,” Financial Times, July 21, 2016,
accessed October 10, 2016,; Tayven James, “4
Reasons to Expect a Slow Start From the Apple Watch,” Wired, April 2, 2015, accessed September 15, 2016,; Mikey Campbell, “Study:
Dissatisfied Apple Watch Owners Cite Lack of Features, But Half Will Buy Next-Gen Model,” AppleInsider, November 30,
2015, accessed October 10, 2016,
5 Newley Purnell and Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Apple Looks to India for Growth,” Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2016, accessed
October 10, 2016,; Alnoor Peermohamed, “Apple Eyes
India for Future Growth,” Business Standard, April 28, 2016, accessed October 10, 2016,
6 Tony Danova, “Smartwatches are the Breakout Category That Will Finally Ignite the Wearable Computing Market,” Business
Insider, October 30, 2014, accessed November 23, 2016,
7 Forrest Stroud, “Smartwatch,” Webopedia, accessed November 23, 2016,;
Devin Coldewey, “Pebble’s Story, From Kickstarter Sensation to Fitbit Acquisition,” December 7, 2016, TC, accessed
November 16, 2017,; Bernd
Entwicklung, “The 5 Most Important Smartwatch Platforms for Developers,” CodeFlügel, September 15, 2016, accessed
November 23, 2016,
8 Sophie Charara, “Apple Watch v Android Wear: The Battle for Smartwatch Supremacy,” Wareable, March 2, 2016, accessed
November 23, 2016,
9 Mike Murphy, “A Year After Its Launch, It’s Now Clear That Pretty Much No One Needs an Apple Watch,” Quartz, April 10,
2016, accessed October 10, 2016,
needs-an-apple-watch; Apple Inc., “Apple Introduces Apple Watch Series 2, the Ultimate Device for a Healthy Life,” press
release, September 7, 2016, accessed October 10, 2016,
series-2.html; Forrest Stroud, “Apple Watch,” Webopedia, accessed October 13, 2016,
watch.html; Michael Sawh and James Stables, “Apple Watch Series 2 Review,” Wareable, September 23, 2016, accessed
October 10, 2016,
10 Dana Wollman, “The Apple Watch as a Fitness Device (as Written by a Runner),” engadget, February 6, 2015, accessed
October 13, 2016,
11 Apple Inc., “Apple Introduces Apple Watch Series 2, the Ultimate Device for a Healthy Life,” press release, September 7,
2016, accessed October 13, 2016,
12 Ibid.
13 “Apple Watch Series 2,” MacRumors, accessed October 13, 2016,; Rob
LeFebvre, “13 Awesome Apple Watch Tricks That Prove It Doesn’t Need a ‘Killer App,’” Cult of Mac, April 22, 2016, accessed
November 24, 2016,
14 Josh Smith, “29 Exciting Things You Can Do With the Apple Watch,” GottaBeMobile, September 11, 2016, accessed
November 24, 2016,; Dan
Fairbanks, “Is the Apple Watch Innovative?,” Fresh, September 12, 2014, accessed January 18, 2017,
15 Tom Nagle and John Hogan, The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing: A Guide to Growing More Profitably, 4th ed. (New Delhi:
Pearson Education, 2009), 45.
16 Smith, op. cit.
17 Ibid.; Tom Rolfe, “Full Medical: How Apple Can Change Healthcare for The Better,” TapSmart, June 26, 2016, accessed
January 13, 2017,
18 Toobin, op. cit.
19 Isabelle Szmigin and Gordon Foxall, “Three Forms of Innovation Resistance: The Case of Retail Payment Methods,”
Technovation 18, no. 6 (1998): 459–468; Tuire Kuisma, Tommi Laukkanen, and Mika Hiltunen. “Mapping the Reasons for
Resistance to Internet Banking: A Means-End Approach,” International Journal of Information Management 27, no. 2 (2007):
20 Campbell, op. cit.

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21 Imran Amed, “6 Core Beliefs behind the New ‘Apple Watch,’” BOF, September 9, 2014, accessed January 19, 2017,
22 Luke Villapaz, “Apple Watch Update: A Year In, What’s Ailing the Smartwatch Market?,” International Business Times,
March 14, 2016, accessed January 18, 2017,
23 Szmigin and Foxall, op. cit.
24 Ibid.
25 Katrin Talke and Sven Heidenreich, “How to Overcome Pro-Change Bias: Incorporating Passive and Active Innovation
Resistance in Innovation Decision Models,” Journal of Product Innovation Management 31, no. 5 (2014): 894–907.
26 Tommi Laukkanen, Suvi Sinkkonen, and Pekka Laukkanen, “Communication Strategies to Overcome Functional and
Psychological Resistance to Internet Banking,” International Journal of Information Management 29, no. 2 (2009), 111–118.
27 Talke and Heindenreich, op. cit.

1 Which innovation characteristics could Apple leverage to manage resistance to future generations of Apple watch?

2 Discuss the role of propagation mechanisms in reducing resistance to Apple watch

3 What are the consumers characteristics that Apple needs to influence to overcome consumer resistance to its smart watch?

4 Discuss the barriers and sources of active and passive innovation resistance in the context of Apple Watch.

5 Discuss various consumer segments that arise from variation in resistance.


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