Cook affirms my best case scenario on Apple wearable computing

Cook affirms my best case scenario on Apple wearable computing

Summary: I speculated earlier this year on what Apple could do with a watch. On Tuesday, Tim Cook opened the door to wearable computing and the scenario I had in mind.

TOPICS: Mobility, Apple
Image: D: All Things Digital

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. 

Also read: Apple's Tim Cook is on target about Google Glass... for now

Topics: Mobility, Apple

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  • Boycott Apple in the U.S.

    Boycott Apple in the U.S. until they become responsible corporate citizens. They should pay taxes on their sale of products in the U.S. instead of moving funds offshore.

    Put down the iCrap until they pony up.
    Eric Dauster
    • Let's boycott ignorance

      Uhm, they DO pay taxes on the sale of products in the US. According to a recent Forbes list of highest taxed companies, Apple was like number 3. According to Tim Cooks prepared remarks (which no one has disputed), Apple pays 1$ out of every 40$ in corporate income taxes in the USA. Apple pays 2.5% of ALL corporate income taxes in the USA. They paid over $6 Billion in income taxes in the US last year if I remember the statistic correctly. More than most every other company.

      What they don't do is pay US income taxes on profits earned by selling the product in other countries (as they shouldn't have to).

      Let's boycott ignoramuses like the US Senate, who couldn't even submit a budget for 3 years, and who have no physical acumen at all. Let's boycott them and the ignoramuses in the House of Representatives until they can run the country on a fiscal basis at even a small percentage of the efficiency and brilliance as Apple is run. When Congress can start putting their own house in order and stop coveting the success of others, we can pay attention to them. Kick all the bums out (from both parties).
      • I liked Jon Stewart's definition of the Senate panel that grilled Cook as:

        "the opposite of the Genius Bar."
      • Spot On!

        @chadpengar You are absolutely right!
    • Boycott a corporation for staying competitive and following the tax laws?

      The tax problem isn't with Apple. The tax problem is with the current tax laws providing the loop holes. Responsible Corporations around bound by law to uphold the interest of their shareholders over the common good. If the law allows what they have done (which it does) and their competitors are doing it too (they are) then Apple wouldn't fair well if they did not find every possible loop hole as well. Is that morally right? No. But that is modern Capitalism. The tax laws need to be improved. Once the loop holes go away the problem goes away. That's how you fix this in a dog-eat-dog system like ours.
      Jeremy Deats
      • Boycott corporate taxes not corporations

        What makes you think corporations pay taxes?
        They simply adjust prices to cover their costs, including taxes.
        If the US had a zero tax rate for corporations, the corps could eliminate most of their accountants and lawyers responsible for minimizing the tax bite. This combined with no tax could allow all competitive corporations to lower their prices and consumers would win.
        Next government would have to become more honest about how much they are taxing us, and we might see some changes, like the flat tax or fair tax, or ???.

        • That's too complicated for the little minds who just want to stick it to

          corporations, while not aware that, when they stick it to corporations, they're actually sticking it to themselves.
          • HA!

            That's for sure! :D
    • Apple pays taxes...

      Apple pays taxes according to how the tax law is written. They just don't pay taxes on sales that are made outside the US.

      Lets look at this on a smaller scale and say that you worked two jobs last year, one in Texas and one in Oregon. Would you pay Oregon state taxes on a job that you worked in Texas and paid Texas state taxes on already?

      In my personal opinion they shouldn't have even asked Tim Cook to appear in front of them like apple did something wrong. As long as congress continues to write bad tax laws and leave loopholes than people will legally take advantage of them.
    • In which case...

      you better stop shopping at WalMart, buying gas from any internationally active petrochemical company, buying any electronic goods. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and just about every other tech company are off of your list as well...

      I hope you don't smoke either.

      Heck, you are stuck with going to your local produce market and buying locally grown foods, I just hope they didn't buy any seeds from Monsanto, otherwise you won't be able to eat those either...
  • Really? Is this what you got from Tim's comments?

    Uhm, with BT 4.0 why do you need your "wearable" computing to do all the stuff you mentioned. Why not just use the phone itself? All the things like checking in for flights, paying for fast food, etc can already be done with BT 4.0 from a technological standpoint using the phone itself. Why do you need an extra device?

    Based on Tim's comments about asking a group of 20 year olds who was wearing a watch and expecting no one to stand, I think you are way off.

    I see nothing in Tim Cook's comments that really point to the "vision" you outline here.
    • Hands full

      What if you pulling your suitcase with one hand and holding the hand of your toddler with the other and you go to check in for your flight. It would be much easier to just quickly wave your wristband in front of a proximity scanner and confirm your information than dig your phone out of your pocket or your bag. The wristband still connects to your smartphone, which remains the brains of the operation.
      • What's wrong with NFC?

        Isn't that a solution to your scenario? I think NFC was designed so that you don't have to pull out your wallet or anything else. Your phone just has to be "near" the POS / or point of transaction in order to work.
      • Seriously?

        "It would be much easier to just quickly wave your wristband in front of a proximity scanner..."

        How are you going to "wave your wristband" while STILL holding your suitcase & the little ankle-biter?

        Nice try...poor example. Try again.
        • Not taking ZDNET seriously

          I no longer take this tech magazine seriously when it comes to consumer electronics. From day one Jason Hiner was an obvious fan boy.
          Andrei Martin
  • Not much of a vision

    "I need a lot more to actually make an accurate measurement."

    I have a device that provides all the fitness data I need. It's called a mirror. Wearable computing is an interesting idea and I'm sure it will be a part of our future, but I think only a few techno/fitness geeks will actually buy a product such as you suggest, like the people who already own heart rate monitors. I can see many more possible uses in the travel and business categories, but still, in the end it's just another kind of iPhone or iPad, isn't it? Hardly a revolution in the making.
    • Exactly

      I hope Apple plans to do something besides make it an extension of your phone. I can't see many people paying $100 or more to have a wireless sensor hooked up to their phone when their phone could just be enhanced with the sensor directly.

      Also I find it funny that Tim Cook dismissed Google Glass going mainstream but says that wearing a band on your wrist is "natural" and "interesting". There is nothing natural about wearing anything on the wrist.

      Also, he needs to check his statistics...last I checked more people wear prescription glasses year after year (ie mainstream) and less people wear watches year after year (why should they? they have a phone that keeps the time and handles DST automagically. That's why I stopped wearing my watch).
    • Do you really think...

      that a mirror is all that's required to monitor your fitness?
      • Reality is that, a mirror will tell you more about your fitness than a

        dumbWatch, or what others are wanting to call a smartWatch.

        For my purposes, I stay fit by using a mirror and a weight scale, and I use the scale a lot more. Can the "smart" watch tell me how much I weigh? Can the smart watch tell me how I look in front of a mirror? Could I ask my smart watch the question: "smartWatch, smartWatch on my wrist, who is the fittest one of all?". ;)
        • Really!

          You get your BP and pulse from a mirror! That's some trick! Perhaps you could share?