Taking Nonsense Seriously: About Alleged iWatch Production Problems

January 3rd, 2014

So you can bet the rumors are running at full-bore about Apple. In addition to yet another bout of downgrading by some alleged financial analysts — which caused Apple’s stock price to, predictably, dive — there’s a story from a Taiwan-based tech publication, DigiTimes, claiming that Apple is having problems building the iWatch.


Well, when I heard about this alleged problem, I wondered if I hadn’t entered an alternate reality. So far as I know, Apple has never announced an iWatch, although Tim Cook does admit to an interest in wearable devices. There is no evidence, so far at least, that an iWatch is being manufactured, so where do stories of this sort come from?

Now to be perfectly reasonable about the situation, there have been unconfirmed reports that Apple has 100 engineers working on developing an iWatch. Apple has also reportedly trademarked the name in some countries, and a few recent hires come from the fashion industry. If you believe what these signs indicate, sure Apple might indeed be contemplating something called an iWatch, though you can’t rightly assume that such a gadget will be anything that resembles what you’ve seen in some artist renderings.

However, DigiTimes, which claims to have sources in the supply chain in Asia, has been known to be consistently wrong. Indeed, that should be sufficient to knock that publication off the list of places the media will take seriously. All right, stories will often mention this critical factoid, but proceed to go with the rumor anyway as if that qualifier was a sentence or phrase that was inserted by someone else and is thus not important.

Except, of course, if you want to actually decide whether to take the claim seriously.

So I will therefore summarize the essence of the claim briefly. Supposedly, Apple’s contract factories are having trouble achieving more than a 50% yield because of the sophisticated manufacturing processes used to assemble the iWatch which, of course, doesn’t officially exist.

Now the reason some might take the story seriously is that Apple is known to build gear that’s hard to assemble. That was true with the iPhone 5, for example, and maybe that explains why the new Mac Pro workstation is seriously backordered. After a month or two of production, however, the bottlenecks are usually resolved, and yields become more efficient. But let’s not confuse the reality with the rumor.

It’s also true that Apple might indeed do a small test run of a new product to see what’s involved in ramping up mass production. It’s very possible designs might change if they prove just too difficult to make, though sometimes you wonder whether Apple green lights a product anyway hoping things will get better over time.

So I’ll be charitable. Yes, it’s quite possible that the DigiTimes story may simply represent the issues encountered in building a test batch, period. It doesn’t mean the product will ever appear, or that it will appear in the form being sampled.

Even if Apple does make an iWatch, it may not appear until summer or fall, at least in time for the holiday season. Introducing a gadget that will often be considered for gift-giving may not make so much sense in the spring. It’s not as if there’s any real competitive pressure yet, since there are no smashing successes among existing smartwatches.

That being the case, you can hardly expect the final form of this device to be set in stone right now. Regardless of how an iWatch is presented, and what it does, Apple is not going to deliver anything of this sort just to see how it fares in the marketplace. That’s the sort of thing a company such as Samsung will do. Samsung, you see, seems to have spent more time promoting the Galaxy Gear smartwatch than in delivering a sexy new gadget that will fuel growth among wearable devices. Indeed, the Galaxy Gear appears to be a huge failure because it is so flawed.

Without going into details about Samsung’s pathetic marketing plans, which turn the protagonist in a TV ad into a possible stalker, it’s fair to say the Galaxy Gear is overpriced, underpowered, and only mates via Bluetooth with a handful of Samsung devices. You almost think the company built the thing in a vacuum without being fully aware of the existence of products that are more affordable and more compatible, such as the Pebble.

You may also want to regard smartwatches as similar to the digital music player market in 2001 before the iPod arrived. There were plenty of contenders, but all were seriously flawed. Apple built a gadget that was good looking, easy to set up, and made downloading and syncing your music simple, courtesy if iTunes. Apple solved the problems and won the market.

If there’s going to be an iWatch, you would expect Apple would consider the problems in this nascent market with existing gear and find solutions. If that happens, an iWatch may be a lock. If not, maybe the technology will appear in some other wearable device that concentrates on displaying data for exercise and other purposes.

But none of this will happen because DigiTimes writes about an iWatch, nor should you assume there are real production problems with a product that doesn’t officially exist.

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One Response to “Taking Nonsense Seriously: About Alleged iWatch Production Problems”

  1. AJ Marlow says:

    A more important question than where do these stories come from is why do they get repeated all over the blogosphere was “fact” (with the rare exceptions of the Tech Nightowl and the Macalope)? As soon as one site comes up with some nonsense like this, eight or nine other sites are breathlessly reporting that so and so said this, with utterly no context. Most of these bloggers are too lazy or disinterested to check on any supposed facts.

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