Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke at the D11 Conference on Tuesday night in the opening tête-à-tête, and predictably, it didn't take long for wearable computing to come up. Cook offered muted praise for Google Glass but dismissed its mainstream appeal while calling wearable computing on your wrist "interesting" and "natural." He also predicted that the next generation of wearable computing will do more than just one thing such as activity tracking.
That kind of talk will naturally fire up the rumor mill about an impending Apple product, especially an iWatch like the one that was discussed earlier this year. In February, I was on This Week in Tech talking about the possible iWatch and my take on it was that it would ideally be more than just a hands-free data interface to your smartphone like the Pebble. My assertion was that it could go even further by integrating activity tracking and creating a whole ecosystem of services and accessories around it.
The point I made to Leo Laporte and the TWiT crowd was that "I'd like to take my Fitbit when I go to the gym and I wish it was an ecosystem and the Fitbit could talk to each of the machines and ... suck all of that data in... We actually don't have enough data. We have more data than we did in the past, but once you start looking at it, you're like, 'I need a lot more to actually make an accurate measurement.'"
To create that kind of ecosystem, you need to be big and have a hit product, and Apple already has a track record of this kind of thing over the past decade. That's why I made this assertion on TWiT:
"Where Apple could some in and be a player in this... I'm hoping that [an iWatch] could be more of an activity tracker and that it creates an ecosystem, the same way the iPod and the iPhone have... where these things can connect and give you more data, for instance in a gym and with gym machines."
The idea is that an iWatch could use a wireless technology like Bluetooth 4.0 to connect to your treadmill or elliptical machine at home and the workout machines at your local fitness center and pull your exercise data into your personal fitness dashboard.
However, that was mostly wishful thinking and speculation until Cook's comments at D11 last night affirmed that Apple is interested in this space. I especially perked up when Cook responded to the wearables issue by bringing up the Nike Fuelband activity tracker, which he was wearing, and he said that no wearable device has yet gone beyond just doing one thing well. I took the fact that Cook's thoughts immediately went to activity trackers as a possible sign of Apple's interest in that space.
"I think wearables is incredibly interesting. I think it could be a profound area for technology," said Cook. "There are lots of gadgets, wearables, in this space now... There's nothing that's going to convince a kid who has never worn glasses or a band or a watch to wear one. Or, at least I haven't seen it. So, I think there's lots of things to solve in this space, but it's an area where it's ripe for exploration. It's ripe for us all getting excited about. There will be tons of companies playing in this."
Back to my idea of an Apple watch or band that would use wireless technology to connect to your smartphone as well as other devices throughout your environment in an Internet of Things scenario, this could not only be used for workout machines. It could extend Apple's Passbook concept to give you a hands-free way to check in for a flight or scan in with your loyalty card at the grocery store or register your electronic ticket at a baseball game—all without pulling your phone out of your pocket. Or, it could let you pay for your coffee at Starbucks or step up to a poster or a storefront and download a coupon for something you may want to purchase later.
That's one direction that Apple could take this to make it a lot more useful than what we've seen so far.