I hope that the Apple watch is more than a dumb terminal

I hope that the Apple watch is more than a dumb terminal

Summary: First Apple dominated the smartphone, then the tablet computer. Apple's next frontier is the wristwatch. Hopefully, Apple doesn't dumb it down too much.

TOPICS: Apple, Apps, iOS

I'm a big fan of wearable computing and was thrilled to see today's news from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal that Apple is working on a iOS-based wristwatch. According to Nick Bilton in the NYT Bits blog Apple is experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass.


When Apple released the sixth-generation iPod nano in September 2010 Steve Jobs commented that an unnamed Apple board member jokingly planned to wear it as a watch. Ever since, a cottage industry has cropped around solutions to wear the new nano as a watch. Most notably, the Lunatik watch kit raised almost a million dollars on Kickstarter -- the most successful project to that point. 

In September 2012 Apple effectively killed the growing and fun iPod-watch industry when it released the seventh-generation iPod nano (pictured above) which switched from a tiny square form-factor to a rectangular shape that wouldn't work as a watch -- even on Dick Tracy.

That's when rumblings of a proper iWatch coming from Cupertino began to crop up. My favorite conspiracy theory (raised by gdgt's Peter Rojas) is that Apple killed the square iPod nano because it's building its own iWatch and doesn't want to compete with itself. At first this was a stretch (even for me) but it looks like Rojas' theory might have legs.

ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes writes for Hardware 2.0 that it's all about the ecosystem, postulating that an iWatch could bring together iCloud, iOS and OS X. Effectively linking services, software and hardware. And our own Larry Dignan thinks that the iWatch rumors reinforce the fact that Apple needs big hits in big markets in order to keep up with Wall Street's increasingly ridiculous expectations.

I agree that the iWatch is about Apple making its next move. Apple already conquered the smartphone and tablet markets and there are only so many advances a company can make to a slab of aluminum and glass. And those markets will eventually be saturated and Apple will lose its early mover advantage. Apple knows this and has to be working on its next revolutionary product.

While a lot of pundits and analysts think that television is Apple's new frontier, I already have one of those (and the Apple hockey puck) and I can't think of anything that would make me swap the panel on my living room wall for one with an Apple logo on it. (Siri? A better guide? Pfft. A barely even watch TV and almost cancelled my cable TV account recently.)

Apple's next billion dollar product has to conquer an entirely new market and the wrist is a logical choice. An Apple watch hits all of the Apple sweet spots. It's small, personal and has a low price point (relatively speaking, of course). And the market is ripe for the picking. The original iPhone convinced most people that they don't need to wear a watch and the new generation has all but abandoned the once fashionable accessory. An Apple watch would make it cool to wear a watch again, and Apple's one of the few tastemakers that has the ability to reinvigorate a category and create demand where there isn't any. 

I don't think that the iWatch will be a standalone device, however. First, it's physically asking to much of the battery to drive all the radios necessary to make iWatch a phone. Plus, no one's going to pay for yet another cellular or data plan. Apple will probably position its watch as a surrogate for an iPhone or iPad. Like the Pebble watch, the iWatch will likely connect to another iOS device via Bluetooth and display things like email, text, Facebook and Twitter alerts on its screen. It should also include Siri so that you'll be able to reply to messages with your voice. 

I'm hoping that Apple doesn't just make the iWatch a "dumb terminal" for a host iPhone or iPad. Ideally Apple will give it some local storage, a WiFi radio, and the ability to support apps. This will make iWatch a killer Spotify/Rdio/Pandora player (provided that you have WiFi). Or even better, the perfect accessory to Apple's long-rumored iRadio, subscription service. 

So, is the watch Apple's next frontier?

Required Reading:

Topics: Apple, Apps, iOS

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  • Really...

    ...you want to put your watch to charge twice a day?? Unless apple's had a breakthrough in battery technology, don't think a watch will be very useful. All it does is save you the trouble of taking out your phone from your pocket !!
    • Watch - will be a timepiece only? Really? Doubt it!

      The battery life of the device will depend on the wireless functions and the screen and backlight, as well as the battery size.

      If the watch was only a timepiece I doubt it would have a short battery life.

      Purpose of earphones is to avoid holding the phone to your ear - so you can leave in your pocket. For this they are very useful.

      Purpose of a wrist based device is the ability to see some information without holding a device or taking out of your pocket? Yes, most likely that is part of it - and that in itself is a really good idea.

      Have you not realised that the wristwatch is much more popular than the fob watch for precisely the reason that you don't have to take it out of your pocket? This was a major breakthrough in watches.

      User interface - watch and learn!
      • It'll be shorter than other watches.

        When was the last time you heard of an iPod lasting for a year in "standby" mode, let alone only showing a single app (i.e. Clock)?

        Most wristwatches will last for at least 1 year, if not 2 or 3, before the battery needs replaced (usually longer if they have analog faces vs. digital) -- but you only replace the batteries because they don't make rechargeable watch batteries.

        So I'd like to see *any* portable electronic device that can handle being an electronic wristwatch with a battery life between charges measured in months, if not years. Don't expect one for decades, though.
        • Most People

          Take their watches off at night. Apple could make a convenient wireless charging stand for their iWatch, which for now is nothing but a unconfirmed rumor anyway. If the battery in such a watch would have to be charged once a week by putting it on such a charging stand, that would not inconvenience most people that much.
    • Seriously. Nobody cares about a new watch.

      Most of us don't even wear a watch anymore. We look at our cell phones for the time. We use them to set alarms and reminders. We use them as stopwatches. We use them as countdown timers. There isn't a single thing they could put on a new watch that would make me want to buy one. I can do all of it with my phone, so why carry one more device? I hope to God Apple doesn't try to pass this futile effort off as "revolutionary."(again)

      Hey Apple, stop developing a stupid watch and get back to work on a high capacity, 4-6 tuner DVR which runs iPad apps natively and uses other iOS devices as controllers. You'll make a lot more money on that than you'll ever make on a watch.
      • wake up

        Bill, Apple is not the source of this rumor. Its only a rumor. Apple is not developing a watch. its easy to mistake the blogosphere hacks as real news stop it. its just link bait
  • the move in phones

    seems to be towards Phablet sized displays. Apple has done some amazing design work over the years but I am not sure how you overcome the inherent limitations of a watch sized visual display.
    • By using it aprropriately

      I'm not entirely convinced this is real yet.

      My thoughts on this go back to the late 80's and an idea a friend of mine had - then forgot he had.

      My other thoughts come from my experiences in the last few weeks at the gym using my iPhone, a heart rate monitor and my Heart rate Watch which was what I used before I upgraded to a bluetooth monitor.

      It is convenient to have a wrist interface/display as well as something in your pocket or on your arm.

      Sony did this with their android watch, which I have not tried so cannot say is good or bad.

      I'd think that a dumb terminal would be a mistake - another device that can exist independantly would be good.

      Obviously making this device an iPhone with a small screen is silly. You would want to design the thing for the screen size and for being a wrist worn device, so limiting the information per screen is important.

      You don't overcome the limitations - you design for the situation.
  • Apple propaganda

    Certain websites seem eager to pass on Apple propaganda while suspending their usual powers of journalistic scrutiny which seem reserved only for Apple's rivals (not invluding Google).

    Here, we have another classic Apple stock-manipulation rumor, desperately trying to decelerate the continuing decline in Apple stock which has already wiped hundreds of billions of dollars off the value of the company:

    Hence the desperate cries of "we're not doomed" from Apple's propaganda machine, now stuck in a pathological overdrive:

    Apple's value is bombing -- for clear reasons which are readily apparent to investors and everybody else.

    E.g. Apple's financial results are overwhelmingly dominated by, and dependent on, one product: iOS. But iOS is very old news, now, and consumer trends are consistent with a growing realization that there are superior products available at an equal and often lower price.

    E.g. Apple is losing market share in by far their most important segment, mobile, which defines the company and it's success in recent year. And again, their quarterly results are dominated by mobile.

    E.g. Apple is not an essential aspect of Apple products. Other companies like Samsung make their components -- all the cleverest stuff is from outside Apple. All Apple does is essentially put a shiny case on it and stamp on their designer-label before selling it to you.

    E.g. Apple's success was achieved under Steve Jobs. He is now gone forever, and it is already abundantly clear that Apple is not the same company without him. Apple is no longer perceived as cool, except among the last remaining die-hard supporters comprising middle-aged men and women, Generation X and older Millennials. Ever since Jobs went, Apple has been making one serious mistake after another.

    E.g. Apple is consistently the most expensive way to buy a product or service, from MP3 files and MP3 players with iTunes to tablets with iPad. Like its stock, Apple has been over-rated and over-valued, and a correction is long overdue.

    E.g. Apple is stuck in the naughties, locked in a work-out pattern of releasing slightly upgraded versions of the same old products. Early fears that Apple has nothing more to offer the world are proving justified. Tech is moving on, leaving Apple behind. The company is now just ticking over -- it's boring to watch.

    E.g. Apple engaged in unpopular and immoral practices, including avoiding $1 BILLION tax per week in the US alone, failing to create jobs domestically or even in its most important market territories, unacceptable conditions for off-shore factory workers, to anti-competitive practices, to patent trolling, etc, etc.

    E.g. Apple has a track record as a fringe player. After all these years, Mac has still barely scraped past 5% market share against Windows.

    Hence, recent estimates value Apple at a mere $200 share:
    Tim Acheson
    • Funny stuff.

      There are actually a couple of points in your post that make sense but the ridiculous ones destroy the credibility.
    • Someone missed their meds this morning.

      The reference to "journalistic scrutiny" is particularly humorous.
    • Since when is the stock price of a company

      related to its profitability? Apple still makes way more profit from each of their products than anybody else. The stock market is not much different than the gambling industry in Nevada. It is manipulated by “analysts” and big investment banks who nowadays use computers and programmed buying and selling to manipulate stock prices. These often predatory and sometimes dishonest stock traders get paid every time a stock is traded. It is in their selfish interest to promote the buying and selling of stock through price manipulations. Stock prices more often than not have very little to do with the actual value or profitability of a company.
    • agenda

      Its not too hard to figutre out your agenda
  • What About Day-to-Day Wear and Tear?

    When the watch kits were released for the Nano, I got really excited. Being a watch guy, I thought it would be really cool to wear the Nano that I was already carrying. But, when shopping around for which kit I wanted, my wife made a very compelling argument. She said, "Are you going to take that thing off every time you want to wash your hands, take a shower, go out in the rain, work in the yard or do any other outdoor activities?"

    She's right. The Nano is fragile. It can easily be cracked, scratched or damaged. It's touch-screen is flimsy and hanging out on your wrist makes it vulnerable to doorknobs, door frames, tables, chairs and other uh-oh moments. I can't tell you how many times a day I catch my watch on stuff. Also, the Nano might be the least waterproof device on the planet.

    Would this coveted iWatch be any different? I'm sure not. I'm sure it will be some fragile computing device encased in brittle glass and scratch-prone metal with a silicone band. Does anyone have a use for such a device? Do you really want to have to take your watch off and lay it on the bathroom counter every time you wash your hands? Or worse, risk your health by NOT washing your hands to protect your fragile wrist-worn iDevice? Do you want to remove your watch every time you take a shower? Or what if you forget and jump in the shower in a 4:30 am post-late-night haze effectively ruining your tiny Siri-enabled timepiece?

    If it's not water-, shock- and life-proof, I don't want it. I'll stick to my little Timex Weekender or Seiko 5 for daily wear. Small, inconspicuous, reliable and cheap enough that if I crush it while changing a tire (yeah right... like I'd get my hands dirty), I can run to my local jewelry store or Walmart and pick up a replacement.
  • iWatch and iLaugh

    Seriously, iThink crApple is getting desperate here. They're not innovating for their phone. It's 1-2 generations behind on features. If not for their 'ecosystem' (trap), many more would leave - that and 2 year contracts.
    • Unfounded rumors designed to

      sell newspapers and create clicks on webpages, is all this is. There is no confirmation or any word from Apple themselves whatsoever. This is just a new variation on the rumors of an Apple branded TV that have been around for at least a year now. I am sure that some folks at Apple like this free publicity, but are amused by all this hot air created by people who call themselves “journalists”.
    • spooo

      There is no iSpoon
    • Apple is streets ahead

      That Apple's 18 month old iPhone 4S outsells the supposed giant killer Smugsan S3 to give Apple the top two places on the worldwide Smartphone sales podium, and that Apple's Smartphone profits are significantly more than those of ALL Android phone builders combined should indicate just how demented some of these comments are.
      Henry 3 Dogg
  • Create a Market

    ...is about the only thing that would save an iWatch. I haven't worn a watch in a long time (a decade or more?) and I can't see why I would do it again. I've got my phone with me if I want a screen (larger than a watch would be), and while it would be faster to glance on a watch (what about security? Do you have to unlock this watch? If not, what if you take it off and leave it sitting somewhere unattended?), I'm skeptical that the information you could see at a quick glance would be worth the investment. Yet once you need to do more than a quick glance, I'd prefer my phone. Still, if anyone can create a market for a product I can't see any benefit for, Apple's probably the one...
    • All true

      Those little niggles won't stop the numptys at large from splashing out though.

      The only real application I could see for a smart watch is that it can interface with other terminals anywhere you go, effectively allowing you to wear your personal desktop computer. However, I can say quite confidently that Apple are incapable of producing something useful.