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  • Is Apple Wasting Its Time with a Product That Doesn’t Exist?

    October 11th, 2013

    In case you’ve been asleep for a while, let me make it perfectly clear: Apple has not released a wearable device known as an iWatch. Apple hasn’t indicated that they plan to release such a device, although Tim Cook has admitted there’s interest in wearable gadgets. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a wristwatch.

    Regardless, the theory voiced in a particularly ill-informed piece in a major publication is that, since existing “smart” watches have failed to catch on, Apple would be wasting its time working on the same sort of product. Look at the evidence.

    What evidence? Well, consider that such gizmos as smartwatches are already available. Think about the Pebble, the Sony SmartWatch or, more recently, the Samsung Galaxy Gear.

    Now there’s one thing true about all of them, and that is that customers are not lining up to buy them.

    After a very slight flurry of publicity for the Galaxy Gear launch, the follow up wasn’t encouraging. Reviews were generally negative. But that makes sense, since the Galaxy Gear doesn’t exist as a standalone device but is intended to mate with a handful of Samsung mobile gadgets. Just a handful. It’s too large, and battery life is not very good.

    At least a Pebble smartwatch can mate with both iOS and Android gear, and it’s cheap enough, at $150, to satisfy the curiosity of people who like interesting gadgets and are willing to pay a modest sum to try one out. The battery is also reported to last for at least several days.

    Now according the folks at Pebble, the company was funded via a Kickstarter campaign, which allows most anyone with a tiny sum to invest to get involved. Some 250,000 have been sold so far. That doesn’t seem like much when you consider the sort of numbers Apple touts for even the Apple TV — over 13 million sold — but we’re talking about a company very few have heard about, which doesn’t have a multimillion dollar ad budget. So a lot of the limited success is due to word of mouth, and some favorable reviews.

    Indeed, the Pebble appears in just about every respect to be far superior to the Samsung at a fraction of the cost. But that doesn’t mean Pebble’s approach is the right one, or one that Apple should or will adopt should they decide to build an iWatch.

    As with all smartwatches so far, a Pebble is an accessory for your existing smartphones or tablets. It uses Bluetooth to pair to your chosen device, and doesn’t do very much by itself. But needing two devices is not terribly efficient. If you forget to take your iPhone or Galaxy S4 with you, what is left for a Pebble to do?

    More to the point, if the media raised similar questions about the prospects for digital music players before the iPod arrived, they would have received very negative responses. They were poorly designed with lousy software and slow download speeds. In addition to providing a smooth, intuitive interface, the iPod used FireWire to sync your songs, so it was much faster. It later switched to USB 2 for better compatibility with PCs, but with similar performance.

    After the iPod produced amazing sales for Apple, other companies tried to get in line but failed. But it was clear that a built-in demand for the right digital music player existed, and Apple met that need.

    Does such a demand exist for a smartwatch? That may be a loaded question. Although I’ve had a wristwatch with me since I was quite young, I realize a large number of young people simply aren’t into the watch habit, and that’s true for older people. Now maybe they would consider one with the right features, a cool design, and great performance, but I wouldn’t presume to make a guess.

    Speaking for myself, I’d want to review an iWatch, should one ever come out, but I can’t say I’d buy one. Depends on Apple’s smartwatch solution. But I have contacted Pebble for a review sample, so let’s see what happens.

    Unfortunately media pundits still, by and large, don’t get Apple. Predicting an iWatch must be destined to fail because existing smartwatches aren’t selling tens of millions of copies is the wrong approach. You could say tablets were unsuccessful too before the iPad came out, and that was certainly true. Apple found a way to solve the problems that prevented tablets from making it into the mainstream. There’s no reason not to think that Apple could do it yet again with the iWatch.

    Yes, I suppose Apple could release one as a “hobby,” in the same way they’ve continued to promote Apple TV. But we know Apple TV is the gateway to a much larger initiative or grand vision of some sort. An iWatch would have to succeed by itself, and make a compelling impression to attract immediate interest. Apple knows the critics won’t be impressed regardless.

    But the people who continue to assert that an iWatch must be a failure clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.



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