Desperate for news about a new Apple product, any Apple product, the rumors have moved back and forth between Apple TV and its variations (including a TV set) and the iWatch. While it is certain there will be an update to the Apple TV box before long, it’s not so certain when it comes to the TV set.
But enough of TVs and living rooms. What about your watch?
You don’t wear a watch? Well, you’re not unusual. While I’ve had a watch since I was real young, my wife only wears one on the weekends, but she uses it as jewelry, not as a means with which to tell time. My son takes his iPhone out of his pocket when he needs to check the time, although he also had a watch when he was a kid.
So when you look at the possibility of a smartwatch of some sort, what’s the target audience? Is it the power user who is only too happy to have yet another fancy toy to play with, or is it something that can be adopted by the masses if only it was delivered with a design and a set of features that made it indispensable?
Such consumer electronics companies as Samsung and Sony, and even a scrappy startup, Pebble, have decreed that there must be a smartwatch in our future. They even have products out there to make the case, but they are mostly variations on a theme. You have a typically electronic design out of a sci-fi movie, something meant as an accessory for your smartphone. So you need to mate your smartwatch with the smartphone in order for it to do much of anything.
So if you happen to forget your smartphone — perhaps you left it on the kitchen table — you have an expensive gadget that doesn’t do much of anything. Is that what you really want?
Now let’s take a look at a very brief history of one of Apple’s most iconic gadgets. So the iPod came out at a time when digital music players didn’t gain much traction. The reasons aren’t particularly surprising. Those players were just difficult to use, and were quite slow to download your songs. Indeed, I tried one or two at the time when writing for CNET and ZDNet, and I was only too happy to return them once the review process was completed. They were that bad.
Although quickly dismissed as an expensive toy, the iPod solved the problems, with usability and particularly download speeds. Apple’s solution was FireWire, but they later went to USB 2.0 when the iPod joy spread to the Windows platform. It wasn’t quite overnight, but it didn’t take long for Apple’s solution to influence an entire industry.
Nowadays, the iPod is yesterday’s news. The best iPod is the iPhone, although it’s not as if Apple is going to discontinue the iPod just yet.
Apple’s “nasty” habit of making power user gadgets warm and fuzzy for the masses came to the fore yet again with the iPhone and later the iPad. Once again, products that hadn’t realized their full potential — and tablets had gone almost nowhere — became perfectly sensible choices even for regular people because of Apple’s choices.
Now it’s perfectly clear that the current crop of smartwatches haven’t taken off in a way that would change the nascent market. As I said, they are mostly variations on the theme. So financial and tech pundits are once again looking to Apple for a solution, which has been dubbed iWatch.
I suppose you can take the possibility seriously enough. Tim Cook has said on a number of occasions that Apple is interested in wearables, although he hasn’t said what kind. It’s no secret Cook is very much into physical fitness, so such a product might indeed reflect, at least in part, his vision. But will it be a smartwatch or some sort of dedicated fitness gadget?
There are published reports suggesting that health and fitness are going to be very significant additions to iOS 8. But that wouldn’t require a smartwatch or some other wearable device, although there might be a market for add-on sensors to take blood pressure and other readings..
If there is an iWatch, I would think it would have to make some sort of fashion statement. It wouldn’t necessarily resemble a tiny computer that just happened to have a wrist band. I suspect Apple would want something that would make the appropriate fashion statement for men, women, children, and I suppose it’s possible that special gender-specific models might exist for obvious reasons. Remember, a watch is jewelry, or usually is.
The other feature would be to allow it to function at least to some degree as a standalone device, although linking to an iPhone via Bluetooth would surely add extra features. But would it exist as a telephone by itself, or would that require a traditional smartphone? If you could make calls, though, I suppose you’d use a Bluetooth headset. I just don’t think people would want to bring it to their mouths as Dick Tracy does in the comics.
But remember the biggest obstacle of all, which is that watches are no longer essential fashion accessories. Apple has to build something you’d be proud to wear, and, once you have one, it would become an indispensable part of your digital life. If Apple can’t resolve such problems, there won’t be an iWatch, at least not yet.