Seven challenges facing the iWatch

Seven challenges facing the iWatch

Summary: There are several examples of smartwatches on the market currently – think the Pebble or the Samsung Galaxy Gear – but none of these have made it into mainstream circulation. If Apple is going to take the iWatch mainstream, it has a number of challenges to overcome.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Apple, Hardware
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According to the ever-busy rumor mill, Apple is preparing to start production of the long-awaited iWatch. While we know nothing official about this mythical device, the word on the street is that it will feature a 2.5-inch screen, wireless charging, and a heart sensor, and could hit stores as early as October.

Apple's been willing to take a gamble on devices for well over a decade now, starting with the iPod and finally culminating with the iPad, but the iWatch will be no different. There are several examples of smartwatches on the market currently — think the Pebble or the Samsung Galaxy Gear — but none of these have made it into mainstream circulation.

Can Apple make the smartwartch a mainstream product? If it is going to do that, the company has a number of challenges to overcome.

1 — Battery life

One of the challenges facing any portable device is balancing out power with battery life, and the smaller a device is, the bigger those problems become.

One of the biggest annoyances facing the smartwatches of today is poor battery life. Go out and pick up a standard digital watch and you can expect a battery life of at least a year. If that's not good enough for you, can pick up solar-powered models that have an indefinite battery life. But if you take the Pebble or the Gear, you're looking at having to charge it every few days.

But you might be wondering what the difference is between charging a smartphone or tablet and charging a smartwatch. Bottom line, it comes down to having to remember to put it on. I've owned and used a few wearable devices and after the initial happiness has worn off, it's so darn easy to forget to put it back on, and a few months later you find it gathering dust on a shelf or hidden away in a drawer somewhere.

2 — Durability

Apple makes some good products, but one thing the company is not known for is making durable products. Drop and iPhone or iPad on the ground and it will break, and drop it in some water and it will drown.

An iWatch is going to have to be a lot more durable than this. It will have to withstand sweat, water, being banged about and dropped on the floor a lot more than any current Apple product can and it will need to look good after this abuse.

It's can't be like my FitBit, which looked a mess after only a few weeks of wear.

3 — Siri powered?

One way Apple could dramatically simplify the iWatch user interface would be to integrate Siri into the iWatch, but this would make the device 100 percent reliant on an iPhone or iPad, and a connection to the internet.

4 — Features

The iWatch just can't bring iPhone or iPad features to the wrist. It has to bring more to the table, a lot more.

Health and fitness are obvious categories, but the strength of the iPhone and iPad is that they appeal to a broad swathe of users, from music lovers to fitness addicts to business users.

5 — Style

Type "digital watch" into Amazon and you'll pull up over 100,000 products. Narrow that down by gender and you'll still get several thousand to choose from, and they come in all manner of shapes and colors.

It' a thing called style, and coming out with a single product — or even a range of products — that has mass appeal is not easy, and that's doubly so when it's a product such as a watch that you wear in plain sight.

Another stylistic problem is making a device that's just as much at home in the gym as it is at work or a party. This is a tough call, but if Apple wants to make the iWatch sticky, they're going to have to make a device that people don't take off often.

6 — Price

Smartwatches are — so far, at any rate — companion devices to smartphones and tablets, but at around $200 to $250 they are not priced as companion devices.

While I an under no illusions that Apple will come out with a budget product — this is a company that sells simple cables for $20 — the price can't be outrageous given that the Pebble Steel is $250 and an iPad starts at $399.

As enthusiastic as Apple is when it comes to pricing, I can't see the iWatch going over $300.

7 — App ecosystem

Is the iWatch going to run third-party apps?

Apps are central to Apple's hardware ecosystem and it's hard to imagine the iWatch not having third-party app support. But if that is going to be the case, Apple is going to have a hard time convincing developers to adopt a new platform when there are easier fish to fry. But the risk is that if Apple decided to release the iWatch without app support, might potential buyers sit back and wait a year or so for an updated version to come?

What do you want from an iWatch? Join in the TalkBack and let me know!

Topics: Mobility, Apple, Hardware

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17 comments
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  • Apple's iOS 8 is "developer friendly" so I wouldn't worry about the iWatch

    Ecosystem. There will be applications designed to access any iWatch sensors and relay that info to an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and even to OS X devices.

    Of course that's "pure speculation" on my part but probably a very safe bet, none-the-less.
    kenosha77a
    • I think an iWatch will primarily be centered around health

      The speculation is that it will have 10 different sensors, for varying physical attributes.

      It also makes sense that this device will be geared towards the specific market segment of healthcare, as just making a tiny wrist sized "smartphone" would entice far smaller audience.
      Honestly, are smartphones too big to be useful? No, in fact smartphones are now growing in size, with larger screens, and even phablets. The trend doesn't look to be "small", so a smartwatch to replace your phone doesn't fit in with what we're seeing now.

      But a healthcare related watch, that would interface with their new app (and note their latest "health touting" commercials) would likely grab a much larger audience then a smartwatch.
      William.Farrel
  • It hopefully doesn't run full iOS

    It should be a simple device that just shows notifications, with a mirisol display and many days battery life.

    I think it could relay voice data to the phone for processing by the siri engine or whatever. This is what happens when you talk to your phone it goes out to the server.
    I will be surprised if this is simply an expensive $300+ watch running full iOS with 1 day battery life.
    drwong
  • Speculation

    This is IMO very much speculation, as I have my doubts about Apple releasing such a device, but here are my thoughts on the 7 points, assuming they did:

    1) There's not a whole lot they can do. And to be honest, this is a YMMV thing. Some people find the iPhone's battery life poor, others find it to be reasonable. Some people tend to forget wearables, others don't. But when all is said and done, Apple's hands are rather tied by the limitations of technology.


    2) We find ourselves in some disagreement here - I've found the iPhone to be pretty durable. I've had my share of dropping it.

    . . . and unless it's specifically built to be waterproof (which is a rather niche feature in cell phones), if course it will drown in water.

    As far as a watch goes:

    I haven't a clue how you'd accidentally drop a device that wraps itself around your wrist. So I don't think it really needs to be much different from a cell phone as far as impact resistance goes. Unless you have a habit of intentionally taking it off your wrist and slamming it on the floor.

    FYI: Thanks to the square-cube law, a smaller device is actually easier to make more durable.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square-cube_law

    I would expect a bit more work in waterproofing a watch, as that would be more important, especially if it's designed with fitness in mind.


    3) . . . unless you gave the watch support for 3G/4G/LTE to begin with, so that it doesn't strictly need a phone. Which is probably the best way to do it.


    4) This is really up to the general public, and I really do not trust ZDNet's opinions as far as what users do and do not like.


    5) Knowing Apple, it will certainly be a simple design, and will likely be inspired by their existing products. I don't expect to see a radical departure from Apple's existing ideals.


    6) Well, this is Apple. They can and do get away with a lot of things pricing wise.


    7) They will go one of three ways with this: iOS, Pixo OS (the OS they use for the iPod Nano), or an entirely new OS.

    It's entirely possible this may actually end up being a souped up version of the 6th gen iPod Nano with an available watch-like wrist strap, similar to what Withings has recently done with their Pulse product.

    Take the 6th gen form factor of the iPod Nano, add a few more sensors, make it a bit more waterproof, and you have a strong candidate for an iWatch.

    *or* they could go the more difficult route: iOS.

    Putting iOS into a watch form factor would be challenging, considering how all of the apps have to be fit onto an even smaller form factor . . .

    . . . eh, you know what? I just don't think the OS will be iOS. I can't really see it. It has to be something like Pixo OS or something entirely new.

    A custom OS is possible, but probably wasteful, considering they have Pixo OS from the iPod Nano. My guess is they'd just go with a modified version of Pixo.
    CobraA1
    • @ CobraA1

      I agree with many of your points, except the following I think your off the target enough to point it out.

      " . . and unless it's specifically built to be waterproof (which is a rather niche feature in cell phones), if course it will drown in water. As far as a watch goes:

      I haven't a clue how you'd accidentally drop a device that wraps itself around your wrist. So I don't think it really needs to be much different from a cell phone as far as impact resistance goes."

      Completely wrong. So much so it sounds exactly like you have little to no experience in the day to day experience of wearing a watch. You have no idea how someone would drop a device that's wrapped around your wrist? Really, this alone seems to indicate your not experienced with a watch. Firstly, watches are taken off, and put on daily, it must be done with one hand and most who have gotten used to wearing a watch become rather adept at it. But, you can fumble, and the watch goes to the floor. When you do this routine at least once off and once on daily for years, you inevitably drop the watch. It happens more and more often to more often you encounter reasons to take it off and put it on throughout the day. Dropping your watch IS NOT something that should happen a lot. But it happens inevitably.

      Because its not at all unusual for someone to find themselves putting their watch on in hurried fashion in the washroom with cleaning themselves up for a day on the job, in the days of common place watch wearing it was hardly an anomaly to hear from a colleague from time to time who had inadvertently dropped their watch in the sink or toilet that morning. Water resistance and shock resistance in watches has been absolutely commonplace for so far back its hard to remember when it wasn't assumed.

      And, another thing someone who has never worn a watch on a day to day basis for years would never know, you give your wrist area a minor bang, often on some jobs, more than you would ever know or think much of unless you regularly wear a wrist watch. When I stopped wearing a watch I have never really noticed much minor contact against hard objects, and that's simply because if your only making minor contact and your not hitting protruding wrist bone, you hardly notice the slight touch against soft flesh, when you have that hard glass watch face on the back of your wrist, even barely noticeable light taps to a fleashy part of the wrist can come off with a "clack" as the watch face makes contact with a solid object you would barely have felt otherwise.

      People often like to swim with a watch on. People find themselves caught in the rain sometimes, you might shy away from pulling your smartphone out in a teaming rain storm for fear of getting water in it, you might forget the watch on your wrist is getting drenched along with your shirt sleeves.

      Transporting a smartphone around bares little similarity to wearing a watch. For the very reason a watch has some convenience attraction to it, it also means they using experience is different in some very important ways that require a watch worn daily to be more robust than a smartphone.
      Cayble
      • thoughts

        Oh, wow. All that to say you sometimes stumble with your watch ;).

        Don't think I've ever outright broken a watch by dropping it, although I have scratched the surface. Although I imagine Apple will use a scratch-resistant glass if they decided to make one.

        And I did say that waterproofing it would be more important than with a cell phone.

        Actually a bit surprised watches went out of style. They are still more convenient for checking the time and date.
        CobraA1
  • Bahahaha...challenges for the fools.

    iFool = fool wearing an iWatch
    Owl:Net
    • Eeugh...

      Did somebody just f*rt?
      frogspaw
  • No Watch

    I began wearing the "No Watch". It is invisible, very light and waterproof up to 10000 meters. It frees me up to then check the time on my cell phone, and measure the calories I burn on the bikes and elliptical exercise machines.
    D.J. 43
  • I don't see it happening

    Tim cook is a fitness enthusiast and that seems to be driving the push for iHealth and the possible health related aspects of the rumored iWatch. I don't see a substantial market for either product . The iPod, the iPad, the iPhone, and the Mac kept people engaged with their devices for hours every day. People happily paid a premium price for that. If I go on a run, time and distance matter. Knowing how my heart rate changes over that time doesn't add much benefit. There is a subset of people that will happily obsess over their health stats. It seems to be a very limited market.
    krossbow
    • Yes, if its largely a health related product it will never go far.

      A product that cost $299 just to monitor various health aspects on otherwise healthy people is on its own ludicrous to think its going to do well, even for Apple.

      consider reality. If you simply said, Apple aside, a company is going to develop a device that goes on your wrist like a watch and it will measure various health related aspects of your body like how much your sweating, how many calories you're "potentially" burning and what your heart rate is, and its going to cost $299...most people at best might say "interesting, sounds like something some professional athletes might be interested in in some situations."

      At best.

      If you said this is being developed and the suspicion is the company that makes it will likely hope to sell multiple millions of the things...most people would say "your kidding". "Hows that going to work? Wouldn't it make more sense if millions more people could afford the price and time to go to a gym?"

      Unless this iHealthWatch can somehow make a person healthier it sounds like a device that tracks something that, unfortunately, almost nobody cares enough about to track.

      It seems to me that if this is all the case, we have finally watched a big hoopla and excitement about an Apple product that only a small fraction of former Apple idevice purchasers will even care about. It sounds like if its all a health based thing that Apple has decided to create a product that the vast majority of the world would have no interest in.

      But, because its Apple, as always, what sounds like an absolutely loony concept, that a $300 health watch might sell hundreds of millions of copies in the next few years, we talk about it like its not only possible, which with Apple you never know, but that we also talk as if it would somehow make sense if it did happen.

      And I don't care what anyone says, if Apple makes a $300 watch that is basically a health monitor and does sell hundreds of millions of them, it dosnt make any sense, and its only because its Apple. Even Dr. Oz couldn't pull off such a feat.
      Cayble
  • the problem with smart watches

    The problem with smart watches is and always will be poor battery life. I've tried the Galaxy Gear at Best Buy and my geek side really, really wanted one. But my practical side kept telling me that it'd be foolish to buy a watch that needs to be placed in a charging cradle every couple of days. At the very least, for a smart watch to be useful, it needs an honest 9 day battery life, so you can charge it once a week (every Sunday night, for instance) plus an extra day or two in case you forget.

    Apple is a very innovative company that prides usability above all. I'll know they've lost their mojo if they don't manage to find a way to release a smart watch with decent battery life.
    dsf3g
    • Huh?

      Da fuq??? O-o I'm not sure where you get that idea but, most people don't sleep with their watch and thus charging it every night is not really an issue...

      Of course, some type of kinetic / solar panel implementation could help that but, I doubt it will ever see 9 days, that's insane.
      slickjim
  • A health watch? Phaugh!

    The iWatch purpose will be what every phone type device has been from the beginning. The cell phone was how people took calls at work without the boss knowing. The pad with built in cell is how you post to Facebook without the boss knowing. The iWatch will be how you send and receive texts in the car without the police catching you!
    Tony Burzio
  • Battery Life

    The problem with the iPhone and eventually with the iWatch is that the battery life wasn't developed to handle as many 3rd party apps and that's where they tend to falter... If you use an iPhone with pretty much nothing but, Apple Apps, the phone goes a very long time.
    slickjim
  • Battery life, then hologram technology

    I would think battery life (preferably recharge every month) is first as a requirement for critical mass, but even then, full replacement of the cell phone would be the next necessity in terms of getting everyone on board. Holographic projection is the only way I can think of that would make it possible to have everything (small on wrist, capable of going large in display). Otherwise, this is likely to be confined for next decade to the fitness and equivalent geek niches.
    D.J. 43
  • apple's ways

    Apple's own ways how to improve their products can be sometimes unpredictable or very surprising when it comes out or announced. Apple has many cool features and lots of great,advance state of the art technology that they will use or whatever they want to do.
    catherinej02