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  • So is Apple Testing a — What?

    February 12th, 2013

    The latest rumor of a possible market disruption about Apple is all about a…wrist watch? As crazy as it may seem, it's not as if the world of fiction hasn't described a precedent for such a gadget? Or the world of comics, such as the famous wrist radio used by detective Dick Tracy, or even Inspector Gadget.

    While the concept of a wrist-based communications device may have seemed appropriate for a future world, Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, didn't see fit to outfit the crew of the 23rd century Enterprise with them. Instead, they used flip phones, called "communicators." It also created somewhat of an awkward situation if a member of the crew left a communicator or phaser in the hands of a primitive civilization. Do you recall what happened when Ensign Chekhov fled his 20th century military captors in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"? Yes, he left his gear behind.

    Well, this rumor was inevitable, and it's been around here and there in various forms for a while. With no confirmation yet whether Apple is going to build a large screen TV set to take over your living room, or master bedroom, there's a story that we may soon see an iOS-powered iWatch. If you can stop laughing for a moment, here's the deal: There are now published reports in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that appear to take this report seriously. It appears that Corning, developer of Gorilla Glass, which is used on the iPhone and many other smartphones, has perfected the sort of bendable glass that would be ideal for a form-fitting smart wristwatch. Apple simply adores exotic technologies, although that may sometimes be taken to extremes. Consider the problems in building the new iMac and getting them into the hands of eager customers.

    But form is only a part of the picture, and certainly an iWatch will look just great, if you check out some of the mockups. One showed a virtually transparent face, with an LCD display that resembles a miniaturized iPhone screen. For such a design scheme to work, the electronic guts would probably have to be embedded in the strap, which limits your choices, I suppose. But Apple could provide different colors, and choices of stainless steel or leather, for example. I'm not worried about the appearance; I'm more interested in the function. Would this be a true communications device, with phone and most functions driven by Siri? A smaller screen would limit the touch options, so don't expect to type more than a few words on one of those gadgets if it had a touch keyboard. But with a carefully focused set of key functions, it could become a really hot product, assuming it was reasonably affordable, though the carrier contract would take care of that.

    An iWatch with the requisite two-year contract could, I suppose be offered free with, say, 4GB of storage. I'm not thinking of such a device as necessarily a repository of your digital content, but more as a communications device, emphasizing FaceTime video chats above voice, though there's no reason that Skype couldn't be included. iCloud would take care of your music and videos.

    Although there has been talk of an iWatch or similar device for years -- and other companies are working on tricked out wristwatches too -- this is a product category that doesn't seem to get a lot of attention, but it should. I've always had a wristwatch of some sort, usually a chronograph or something with lots of dials and obscure functions -- and cheap. But the question is how Apple might overturn that venerable industry with a next-generation communications device.

    Actually, I find the concept intriguing. There's even a report that Foxconn is now involved in developing techniques to power and assemble such a device, which is to be expected even if it's only a prototype.

    But it's also a good time to return to the real world, such as it is. Apple is no doubt developing all sorts of fascinating product concepts that may or may not make it to market. There is that long-rumored smart TV set, a spruced up Apple TV set top box, and a host of other ideas that will keep the rumor purveyors endlessly busy.

    When it comes to a TV set, even if it's little more than a Siri-driven overgrown iPad of some sort, I remain highly skeptical. Most of the things such a set could do to fix the problems that affect existing gear can be done with the box rather than the entire widget. A digital hub version of Apple TV, for example, with seamless integration of all your connected devices -- from cable/satellite box to gaming consoles and Blu-ray player -- would really make a big difference in the industry. TV makers are just throwing all sorts of features into existing sets and proclaiming them "smart," even though most customers don't bother with that stuff. They just turn the things on, fiddle with the accessories, and get on with their business.

    The other problem with predicting what Apple might do is that you're probably going to be wrong. Sure, an iPad mini was a predictable addition to the iPad lineup. But when the talk moves to a cheap iPhone, or an iPhone with a much larger display, credibility goes out the window. But there is something about the iWatch concept that is undeniably appealing. Besides, I like fancy watches, and this one is going to put anything I've ever used to shame -- assuming it's real of course.



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    2 Responses to “So is Apple Testing a — What?”

    1. Yacko says:

      I'm agnostic on the likelihood of such a device. I get the time from my phone and haven't worn anything on my wrist in years. However, if it is more than a "watch", rolls at least three or four devices in one, it might have a chance. Think of a Nest thermostat for your wrist. It controls and guides your life, tells you about your health and can give you a lot of meaningful statistics and graphs about your day. Maybe a real life constant recorder? Again, I don't see it, however Apple does have a way of thinking differently and then making that different thought process accessible to the average consumer.

    2. John B says:

      Did this recent round of iWatch speculation get started because of this article?

      http://asktog.com/atc/apple-iwatch/

      The watch that Tog describes, I'd buy in a minute. But this is just the speculation of a former Apple employee, not a commentary on an actual product. Though I wouldn't be surprised if some of these ideas do show up in a future Apple product.

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