Apple slates March 9 event, hints at Watch wearable

If it sticks with a promised April on-sale, pre-orders could help it manage the channel and identify the most popular SKU, says analyst

Apple today invited reporters and analysts to an event scheduled for March 9, when it will probably talk up the Apple Watch and perhaps unveil other hardware.

The presentation will be live-streamed.

The venue, San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, has frequently been used by Apple, most recently for the October 2013 unveiling of the iPad Air. Apple may have chosen Yerba Buena for space reasons, as it seats 755, considerably more than the Cupertino, Calif. company's on-campus theater.

As is Apple's practice, the invitation teased the presentation with a coy reference, in this case, "Spring forward."

The phrase tipped the Apple Watch; Sunday, March 8, is the day most of the U.S. changes to Daylight Savings Time. The phrase "Spring forward, Fall back" is an oft-called memory aid for which way to move clocks, watches and other time-keepers when changing from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time or vice versa.

"That's a nice date if it is [about] the Watch," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, pointing to the "Spring forward" cue.

Last month, Apple CEO Tim Cook used the company's earnings call to announce that the Apple Watch would go on sale in April, but revealed no other details. If Apple does highlight the Watch on March 8 and retains the April on-sales window, it would mimic other instances when the company has introduced a product, but delayed the sales date by several weeks to assemble more units and ship them to its warehouses and stores. In the interim, Apple has often taken pre-orders.

Milanesi saw another reason for a delay that revolved around pre-orders. "The Watch is new, so pre-orders would be valuable from a channel perspective," she said. "They might help Apple understand where the demand is and what is the most popular SKU [stock keeping unit], then tweak things before [the Watch] ends up in the stores."

Apple has a habit of kicking off sales on Fridays. April 2 is the first Friday of the month, and about three-and-a-half weeks after the scheduled event.

Cook and other Apple executives will presumably use the presentation to disclose pricing -- they have said the lowest-priced model will list for $349 but haven't talked dollars about the other two lines -- demonstrate more software, including third-party programs; and spell out such things as battery life, recharging time and down-the-road upgrade possibilities, if any.

Milanesi also expected that Apple would take the opportunity to again talk up Apple Pay -- "It's worth taking a moment to talk about its success," Milansesi said -- because of the integration between the electronic payment service, which launched last year, and the Apple Watch.

Other devices could also be on the agenda, including refreshes of the MacBook Air line -- chatter has regularly surfaced about a Retina-equipped Air -- or a revamp of the iPad and/or iPad Mini, which received only minor enhancements last fall.

"I do wonder if there may be something else that by itself might not be big enough for its own event," ," Milanesi said, However, she was skeptical about a new-sized 12-in. MacBook Air with a Retina display, since that would make more sense to tout if or when Apple launches a larger-screen iPad, which some have called the "iPad Pro."

That larger tablet, which may in fact be the origin of Retina-ready MacBook Air rumors, is expected to roll out later this year.

Apple will live-stream the March 9 event, keeping alive its string of consecutively-webcast major product introductions that include last year's iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 unveilings. The latter, where Cook used Steve Jobs' line of "one more thing" to preface the Apple Watch, was a broadcast disaster: The botched stream featured black screens, failed audio and what sounded like a Chinese translator talking in the background.

Next month's webcast will begin at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET), and will require Safari on OS X or iOS, or an Apple TV. Windows users will be out of luck unless they have a virtual machine running OS X.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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