The iWatch: Making Up Form Factors

July 16th, 2014

While ongoing speculation about the iPhone has more or less centered on two sizes and the usual range of hardware enhancements, the talk about the rumored iWatch is still all over the map. When it comes to alleged iPhone 6, supply chain chatter has continued to leak into the wild, and some of it seems credible.

As the iPhone supply chain expands, it has become more and more difficult for Apple to keep secrets. Basic hardware features, usually the look and maybe some surface details about the parts, will leak before the official release date. So I assume the same will hold true for the iPhone 6, although there may be a few surprises that might match last year’s revelation about the A7’s 64-bit capability and the M7 coprocessor.

So I have little doubt there will be two versions, specifically a 4.7-inch version and a 5.5-inch version. The latter may or may not be available with the smaller model, but that depends on whether reports of production problems are true, and if true, whether they can be solved in time. Yes, some respected sources are making this claim, but that doesn’t mean the problems won’t be resolved in time to get the handsets out in decent volumes almost sufficient to meet the expected demand.

When it comes to the iWatch, there are plenty of artist concepts of what it must look like. But they are all variations on a theme, that of a wristwatch with a tech-oriented look and feel. Or maybe it will resemble a traditional watch and only betray its smartwatch and fitness pretensions when you actually have it do something other than tell the time.

A new story mentions of two versions, with 1.6-inch and 1.8-inch displays. That stands in contrast to other reports pegging the screen size at 2.5-inches. One recent report speaks of the larger of the two coming with and without scratch-resistant sapphire screens. But this would seem a curious product decision on Apple’s part, and I doubt it would resonate with customers. Indeed, it would be the source of the sort of confusion that Apple chooses to avoid.

So if it’s to be sapphire, they’ll probably all be sapphire.

The chatter emphases the focus on health and fitness, which echoes Tim Cook’s clear appreciation for such capabilities. No doubt there will be sensors aplenty, and the ability to dock with an iPhone and perhaps even an iPad. The big question is what this alleged iWatch will be able to do without the connection. That’s the achilles heel of existing smartwatches, and it may represent the biggest advantage of the iWatch. No doubt a Bluetooth link to the iPhone/iPad would add features, since the size of the watch itself would limit what it can do.

Apple’s decision to bring onboard fashion and health and fitness people to the company would seem to mean that the iWatch can be regarded as a piece of jewelry, not a mere tech toy. That would be a sea change from existing gear, and allow Apple to reach potential customers who wouldn’t give, say, a Pebble or a Galaxy Gear smartwatch a second glance. This would mean different sizes for men and women of course.

Yet some skeptics suggest there will be no iWatch per se, but rather some sort of wearable gadget that might fit around your wrist, but would not be something that resembles or functions as a watch.

Regardless, it’s not as if Apple doesn’t already make something you can wear, with an accessory wristband of course, and that’s the $49 iPod shuffle. It may look awkward, but you can get the sense of where an iWatch make end up. But the iWatch would clearly be far more sophisticated than a basic digital music player, though it may be similar in size if rounded instead of square.

The other question is price. There’s talk of $300 or so, but there was that recent survey suggesting this price point might confront severe customer resistance. But it’s also possible Apple might build a more expensive model with built-in telephone capabilities, and sell it through a wireless carrier, so you benefit from a subsidy or a convenient payment plan.

Compare the iPad, which is available with and without a cellular radio. This way, if the iWatch phone comes in at $399 or higher, the price wouldn’t seem excessive unless you want the unlocked model. Indeed, such a product might represent a convenient way for Apple to reach customers for whom a standard iPhone is just too expensive without a subsidy or financing arrangement.

Understand that all this is speculation. I don’t even know that there will be an iWatch, let alone the form, the number of models, or even the hardware capabilities, and forget about the selling price. At this point, though, the failure to deliver something called iWatch may present a problem, particularly in light of all those promises that Apple will deliver new products in new categories later this year.

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