Photograph by Stephen Lam — Getty Images

The iPhone is expected to be the Sept. 9 event headliner, but some are hoping to hear more about the company's smartwatch and iPad plans.

By Don Reisinger
September 2, 2015

Most speculation about Apple’s upcoming press event has focused on the iPhone, but for some insiders it’ll be the company’s iPad and Apple Watch updates that prove most interesting.

When Apple CEO Tim Cook takes the stage on Sept. 9 to host his company’s press event, investors, analysts, and interested observers, may want more than just talk of the iPhone. The smartphone is certainly critical to Apple’s AAPL success—it represents nearly two-thirds of its business, after all—but questions abound over the company’s iPad and Apple Watch that, so far, Cook and his team haven’t addressed.

Apple’s tablet, which launched in 2010, was once an integral component in the company’s mobile division. In the past year, however, the iPad has become something of a sore spot. During Apple’s last-reported quarter, the company revealed that iPad unit sales were down 18% year-over-year and revenue fell 23% compared to the same period in 2014.

Meanwhile, the tablet space in general is also in decline. In July, research firm IDC reported that during the second quarter, tablet makers shipped 44.7 million units worldwide, down 7% year-over-year. Meanwhile, Apple’s shipments fell 17.9% during the same time period, despite holding on to the market lead.

While IDC was quick to say that it believes the tablet market could stage a turnaround on the backs of “productivity-enabling features” and “2-in-1” devices that combine notebook and tablet functionality, it expressed some concern over difficulties the space faces in the future.

“Longer life cycles, increased competition from other categories such as larger smartphones, combined with the fact that end users can install the latest operating systems on their older tablets has stifled the initial enthusiasm for these devices in the consumer market,” Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst of worldwide mobile device trackers at IDC, said in a statement.

 

IDC’s warnings haven’t gone unnoticed. Indeed, during an earnings call in July, Cook was forced to allay lingering investor fears, saying that he’s “still bullish on iPad.”

“I think and I believe that the iPad consumer upgrade cycle will eventually occur,” Cook said during the call. “It’s not like people have forgotten iPad or anything. It’s a fantastic product. So I see a lot of runway.”

Meanwhile, Apple Watch sales figures have also been noticeably absent from recent company updates.

When the company launched its Apple Watch earlier this year to much fanfare, the world expected to hear it tout strong sales. Instead, Apple has remained largely tight-lipped about the smartwatch dashing any hope that Apple would provide some clarity on how its latest major investment is performing. Cook would later only comment on device sales by stating that they continue to “exceed [Apple’s] expectations.”

At first blush, Cook’s comments may seem legitimate. Last month, IDC reported that Apple shipped 3.6 million Watch units in the second quarter, earning it the second spot in the wearables space behind fitness-tracker maker Fitbit. IDC noted that Apple took the second spot despite only offering its Apple Watch in “sixteen geographic markets.”

Regardless, naysayers speculate over why Apple is hesitant to offer exact sales figures, with some saying that perhaps Apple Watch sales are in fact disappointing.

“Apple Watch sales to date are most likely between 2 and 2.5 million,” Juniper Research devices analyst James Moar said in a statement in July before the second-quarter data was released. “This makes it the most successful smartwatch launch to date, with no other launches coming close in a comparable time period. However, despite buyers being satisfied with the device, we continue to see that the product is running out of steam.”

Others, however, suggest Apple’s near-silence on the topic is due to it not needing to talk about sales figures at all.

 

“If you look at who cares whether Apple Watch is selling well or not, it’s the developers,” Trip Chowdhry, managing director of equity research at Global Equities Research, told Fortune. “The software developers who create applications for Apple Watch are the ones who need to be kept excited. And almost every developer we have spoken to has said that Apple Watch is a runaway success.”

Developers may not be the only interested parties. Cook said during a recent earnings call that he decided in September not to talk about Apple Watch sales to maintain a competitive advantage.

“That was not a matter of not being transparent,” he said in response to an analyst’s question about Apple Watch sales. “It was a matter of not giving our competition insight. That’s a product that we’ve worked really hard on.”

Still, Apple’s struggles in the tablet space and its unwillingness to provide concrete sales figures have increasingly garnered attention and frustrated some tech enthusiasts. The company’s Sept. 9 event, therefore, may just be the place where it can provide long-awaited answers to those burning questions.

Rumors suggest that Apple may at least address one of those items at its press event. Several reports have said that Apple is planning to upgrade its iPad Air and iPad Mini, and may even announce a new business-focused slate to be known as the iPad Pro. Apple has been silent on its announcement plans, but all signs point to new iPads, says Chowdhry. He told Fortune that “the iPad Pro will definitely” be announced at the event, alongside updates to Apple’s current iPads.

It’s unknown, however, whether Apple Watch sales talk will make the cut. Apple, after all, has a tendency to do what it wants and rarely bows to pressure. If the company wants to announce something, it will. If not, it won’t. And, as history has shown, Apple likes to use its late-summer events to showcase its new iPhone, sometimes leaving its other products—and the speculation surrounding them—behind the curtain.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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