Being an armchair product designer has its advantages, but the most important is the lack of accountability. You can say anything you want without regard to the consequences of your statements. After all, you’re not actually inventing anything except for some words strung together in sentences, and sentences strung together in paragraphs. If someone is foolish enough to listen to you, and loses their shirt as a result, it’s really their fault. Talk is cheap.
So the media is having a field day predicting what Apple will, or should, release as a product that will somehow change the world. They certainly know, based on what Tim Cook has said over and over again, that Apple doesn’t focus on getting the highest market share in any industry they enter. It’s all about products that will somehow change the world, products that you never thought you’d need until you use them and find you can’t live without them.
Well, I suppose there are some products I can live without. Take the iPod. Yes, I was an early Walkman user, more or less, but I always felt somehow confined listening to music via ear buds rather than loudspeakers. I bought Walkman cassette and CD players over the years, used them for a time, and soon set them aside. The same goes for the iPod, and I’ve owned several over the years. But that’s just me.
As for the iPhone, I never had a BlackBerry. I was never interested in texting, since the process was so convoluted on my Motorola RAZR feature phone, although I would tap out a message or two from time to time in response to something my son would send me. But when Apple sent me an iPhone to evaluate for a couple of weeks, I went through the basic process of syncing my email accounts and Safari bookmarks. Rather than bring my MacBook Pro to the bedroom to keep tabs on important messages, as I used to do, I placed the iPhone on the night table. At the end of those two weeks, I asked Apple for an extension and, before I had to sent the unit back, I had purchased one of my own.
Until I had an iPhone, I never thought of a smartphone as anything indispensable, let alone a convenient replacement for my notebook in some situations. I didn’t think I’d need one until I spent some facetime with it, and I changed my feelings real quickly. That’s the Apple way.
But not so with the iPad. Mrs. Steinberg depends on one as a constant companion; she is not enamored of regular Macs, and only uses them grudgingly. To her, the iPad is the gadget she never thought she’d need, until exposed to one. In contrast, I rarely touch the iPad, except to help her deal with a problem of one sort or another. The regular iPad is otherwise an inconvenience, though I might change my tune with an iPad mini. But that’s just speculation.
The point of this little exercise is that it’s hard to predict how any individual may react to a new Apple gadget. Apple reportedly doesn’t do focus group testing before deciding what to build, assuming the public isn’t capable of knowing what products they might want or need if they never used one. Compare that to the old story that Henry Ford never evaluated public opinion before releasing Model T, assuming people would just say they prefer a faster horse and buggy.
Regardless, none of this stops the speculation, and even if there’s a suggestion of a report from someone supposedly in the know, such as an Apple component partner, the rumors will run amok. As talk about a possible Apple smart TV set dies down yet again, stories have arisen that Apple has some 100 designers and engineers working on something that’s been dubbed the iWatch.
Before going further, it’s important to realize that Apple may, at any one time, be testing dozens and dozens of product prototypes. But, as with pilots of prospective TV shows, few of these new product concepts will ever make it into production. Even then, the final form factor may differ sharply from the one that is given the green light.
While I find the concept of an Apple smart TV to be a hard sell, a souped up Apple TV box would make sense, especially if it simplifies the process of switching the various gadgets connected to your TV without having to program a complicated and temperamental universal remote. As the owner of a Logitech Harmony, let me tell you that, if you have a few devices on hand that you want to manage with a single remote, the setup process can sometimes be convoluted and inconsistent, particularly if you’re using a gadget that is a little off the mainstream. An example is the ZVOX sound base I’m reviewing. It’s a single unit home theater audio system that is designed to be placed below your TV on a normal stand.
But the iWatch? Well, some of the people I’ve talked to think the miniaturization process would make it hard to pack too many features into such a beast. Perhaps it would simply be a “dumb” terminal that connects to a regular iPhone via Bluetooth. It would, therefore, be little more than a wireless headset that happens to be affixed to your wrist with a strap. My concept is more all-encompassing: For an iWatch to make sense to me, it would have to incorporate a real wireless phone, a tiny Web cam, and enough storage to serve as an iPod. Make it an iPod shuffle on steroids. But don’t take me seriously. I’m just an armchair designer stringing words, sentences and paragraphs together.