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  • Of Trademarks and Patents: Clues to New Apple Gear?

    July 2nd, 2013

    There’s a published report, in the Washington Post, that Apple has applied for the iWatch trademark in Japan. The filing with the Japan Patent Office, made June 3, has been made public, so it certainly appears to be true. In addition it was later revealed that Apple applied for iWatch trademarks in several other countries on the very same day, so it is naturally assumed that this is a prelude to the possibly imminent arrival of a product bearing that name. It has to so, for why would Apple bother otherwise?

    This may, of course, be the correct assumption. There was another published report a while back, never officially confirmed, that Apple has 100 engineers working on a wearable device of some sort, which is presumed to be an iWatch. There’s also the assumption that Apple, stung by the large decline in stock price since late 2012, is busy trying to invent the next great thing, and this must be it.

    Or so they say.

    Now I’m not going to assume that there is no iWatch in Apple’s development labs. There are no doubt loads of potential products in various phases of development, it is quite possible such an animal might appear, eventually at any rate. But that doesn’t mean that there is a crying need for a connected watch, or that Apple can or will offer a viable solution.

    Meantime, other companies are looking into the possibilities of a connected watch of some sort. Sony is selling something called SmartWatch, which runs a version of Android, and is meant to serve as a wearable accessory for a smartphone. The theory goes that, if your smartphone is stuck in your pocket, and you receive a phone call, you aren’t put in the position of struggling to get it out. Just tap your SmartWatch, which uses Bluetooth to connect to your Android smartphone. The first product labeled SmartWatch debuted last year and retailed for $149.99. A new version, known as SmartWatch 2 ,is promised for September.

    But Sony’s solution isn’t unique. Other tech companies, including Samsung, are working on wearable products that might, to some degree, be designed to head off Apple at the pass. Google thinks it requires glasses. However, all this assumes Apple has a strong interest in entering this nascent market, or that their solution will also be a smartphone accessory.

    I suppose so-called smartwatches might, to some, be in the same category as digital music players in 2001, before the iPod came along. In those days, the presumed successors to the Sony Walkman didn’t attract many buyers, and they were particularly clumsy in the way they functioned. The iPod provided the first consumer friendly solution, with speedy downloads, easy syncing with iTunes and a simple, intuitive interface. It took off by wildfire, and the competition, which eventually included the Zune from Microsoft, never came close.

    But a wearable device in the form of the SmartWatch faces a severe obstacle. Young people were quick to embrace the iPod, particularly when Apple introduced relatively inexpensive versions. But children these days don’t wear watches all that much, so where’s the potential? Well for those of us somewhat older, I have always had a watch of one sort or another, usually with lots of dials and buttons, so I might be number one on the list of potential smartwatch buyers. My wife wears a watch when she goes out, sometimes, but mostly as jewelry. She never bothers to look at it.

    My son, now aged 27, never bothered, and he’s typical of his peers. It’s not encouraging to read that Sony claims to have “over half a million customers” for their smartwatches since 2007. Apple would expect to sell that number of devices in the space of a few days to make an iWatch viable.

    Consider how the Apple TV has fared. Apple has sold 13 million copies; half of that number in the past year. To Apple, 13 million sales represents a hobby. Half a million would represent an outright failure, except, perhaps, for a high-end workstation such as the Mac Pro. To think Apple would build an iWatch without the expectation of tens of millions of potential sales in the first year is a stretch. Indeed, it doesn’t make much sense.

    This doesn’t mean wearable devices of this sort don’t have potential. The right approach could likely cause a market revolution, and I wouldn’t presume to have the answers as to what that approach should be. On the surface, though, I’d think a successful iWatch would be capable of performing at least some functions as a standalone device. I’m thinking in terms of a clock, calendar, telephone , and perhaps keeping tabs on your exercise routine. If Apple embedded some of the circuitry, such as the wireless antenna, in the band, I could see where a tiny gadget of that sort would be viable. Or maybe Apple could put everything in the watch itself, and you could use any band or bracelet you want.

    I can see where there would be complications. If you get a phone call, do you really want to bring the thing to your mouth to answer the call? Would there be a speakerphone to hear the caller, or would it come with a Bluetooth headset to manage those functions? However, the fact that Apple is already in the trademark registration mode indicates that the iWatch may indeed have advanced to the point where it may actually be a real product that will be released in the near future. That says a lot.



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