The one must-have iWatch feature

The one must-have iWatch feature

Summary: It doesn't matter how many leading-edge sensors it has or how beautiful and stylish it is. If the iWatch doesn't get power right it will fail. Here's two Apple technologies that will set the iWatch apart from competitors.

TOPICS: Storage, Apple, Mobility

Wearable technology comes with a hard requirement: it has to work all the time. Otherwise, why wear it?

If the iWatch is going to become an indispensible part of everyday life, it has to function without fuss or bother. Think of all the attention paid to watch power. Self-winding watches. Electric watches. Solar powered watches.

This seems out of proportion to how easy it is to wind a watch. But if you forget, you can't tell time when you want to. And you're carrying a reminder on your wrist that you forgot to wind it.

Adds insult to injury.

Ideally, the iWatch will have a 72-hour battery life. Put it down over a long weekend and it will still function when you put it back on. 

There's two ways to solve the problem: reduce energy consumption; and/or increase energy production. Let's save energy production for a future post.

Power budget

In the last year Apple has purchased at least two companies specializing in low-power components. Last year Apple bought Passif Semiconductor, which specialized in low-power wireless transceivers. Radios are energy hogs, so this is obvious.

Less obvious is Apple's acquisition of LuxVue earlier this year, a developer of an active matrix emissive micro LED display panel. Its big advantage is low power consumption, while also offering - reportedly - excellent brightness and contrast.

How low? From a LuxVue patent application:

The micro LED devices are highly efficient at light emission and consume very little power (e.g., 250 mW for a 10 inch diagonal display) compared to 5-10 watts for a 10 inch diagonal LCD or OLED display, enabling reduction of power consumption of the display panel.

That's right: as little as 2.5 percent of today's panel power budget, even at Retina display pixel densities. Another plus: the display can be printed on a flexible substrate.

Special Feature

Wearables: Fit For Business?

Wearables: Fit For Business?

The explosion of interest in wearable computing is one of tech's fastest rising trends. While big moves from Google, Apple, and Samsung will likely attract a lot of attention, we're going to examine the broader potential that wearables hold for driving innovation in business.

Displays use more power than radios, so this is huge. Imagine what these could do for the iWatch, let alone the iPad and MacBook Air.

The Storage Bits take

These aren't the only power-sipping technologies. The recent work on sub-threshold circuitry and back-scatter radio transmission promise orders-of-magnitude improvements in those areas.

But the two companies that Apple has purchased promise fundamental and hard-to-replicate advantages over its less profitable competitors for the next 3-5 years. Only Apple and maybe Samsung can afford to invest a billion dollars or more in a promising technology to take it from the lab to mass production.

LuxVue's patents mean even Samsung would have problems quickly copying their functionality. For the rest of us this is all good. As the mobile computing revolution grows, we can't be changing batteries all day.

Comments welcome, as always. I wrote an earlier post - What wearable tech's past says about Apple's iWatch - a couple of months ago to explore it's likely functional areas. Wearable tech has a longer history then you may think.

Topics: Storage, Apple, Mobility

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  • How many more advertorials ...

    ... for a product that officially doesn't even exist.

    If / when it materializes, we'll get wall-to-wall promotion. Do we really need it it now too?
    • Analysis, not advocacy

      You should learn the difference. Looking at Apple's investments to discern future directions is not advocacy.

      R Harris
  • How about some new material, author?

    You think phablets make you look like an 35 year old virgin at Comicon? Just wait until you start reading emails on a 1" screen.

    The real issue is that - in order for the iWatch to succeed - people will have to ditch their smartphones; nobody is going to wear an iWatch AND carry a smartphone.. and since we all already have compact smartphones, what's the point?

    The iWatch, like every other smartwatch attempt... will be an epic fail.
    • You do realize that you

      Are predicting failure for a device that doesn't exist anywhere in the real world, right?
    • What could Apple possibly do differently than anyone else?

      I haven't worn a watch in 15 years, so I'm not excited about wearable tech from Apple or anyone else. But given the long history of wearable tech, advances in sensor tech, and the aging populations in the developed world, it seems possible that a killer health app or two could drive large-scale adoption.

      In small form factors power budgets are critical. Apple obviously knows this as their investments show. So looking at what the most creative high-tech company is doing is, IMHO, instructive.

      R Harris
      • I do think health is huge.

        Pedometers, sleep monitoring, body temp, cardiac rhythm, syncopy (fainting especially in elderly results in some fairly serious injuries), narcolepsy monitoring and wakeup, falling asleep at the wheel. Attack, robbery, falling alerts. Pill reminders and logging.

        There are lots and lots of applications and data mining opportunities to identify correlations that were not known before.
      • Small-minded people, such as some of those posting here...

        ... are not the ones who evolve into visionaries.

        The biggest magic trick any product category can pull out of its hat is to create the impression in the user that they need something they didn't even know existed 5 minutes ago.

        And trust me, much like the author of this article mentioned even the act of having to wind a mechanical watch being too much work for most people, the act of pulling a (increasingly ever larger) smartphone out of a tight pants pocket, especially in the midst of sensitive social situations, is just enough of a catalyst for people to see the value in a smart watch the first time that whole cumbersome 2 second activity is eliminated from the annals of history.
    • Why not both?

      To me that seems crazy because the two could have synergy.
    • Just the Opposite

      Your "wearable" should be a convenient window to your smartphone, so you're not jamming it in and out of your pocket all the time (and maybe, just maybe, putting an end to belt clip holsters!) I hate beeps, songs, rings, buzzers for alerts - think of the huge advantage of a mild vibration on your wrist - you will never miss the notification and others around you won't know you got one - how much more brilliant could that be. A quick glance and you know whether you really need to tickle the keys on the smartphone. If they adopt that fit band style narrow bend around your wrist style, you can see time, temp, alerts in a quick glance - many folks I know will be "there" when that happens.
  • A built in lase beam is the must have feature

    anything else makes it unneeded.
  • Can't fix bad form factor

    There's no fix for a bad form factor. The whole watch hype will just quietly disappear. Using my "zune" trends metric for a consumer gadget with little interest, the interest in "iwatch" is about the same as "zune"
    Buster Friendly
    • Learning from history

      The pocket watch was a big thing a couple of centuries ago but the wristwatch pretty much sent it to obscurity....apologies to railway conductors.
      • Was there a point

        Was there some kind of point there?
        Buster Friendly
        • Yep!

          Missed it, I guess.
          • Lame

            Being vague and then dodging in response = fail. If you're trying to make a staggeringly lame point that a pocket watch = phone, that 's a double fail. Pocket watches were large due to technology limitation. Phones are large for functional reasons.
            Buster Friendly
          • No dodging response

            I just thought it would be wasted. You are predicting the failure of something you know nothing about...that is lame. As far as technology, again history shows us that we have no idea about the future. I recently read a Sci-Fi book from a famous author written probably in the 60's about a time hundreds of years in the future. In that book, phones were still stuck inside homes.
          • watches were large because they were very expensive

            and had to be protected. They also were a status symbol.
            When cheaper watches came out, they did not need that level of physical protection, and people started wearing them on their wrists.
    • The watch has really been the only successful wearable tech so far.

      "Can't fix bad form factor"

      The watch has really been the only successful wearable tech so far. Smartphones may have supplanted them a bit, but I still see more people wearing watches than something like Google Glass.

      So, if the watch is a "bad" form factor, what would be a "good" form factor for a wearable?
      • Problem is

        The problem is you can't get a reasonably large viewing area on a watch. Just telling the time you can do because the amount of information to display is tiny. The classic attempt was the calculator watch which was basically unusable. The only form factor that would really work as a wearable would be Futurama style wrist device but I suspect that would be too dorky to sell. What's wrong with the note pad ergonomics which have stood the test of time?
        Buster Friendly
    • Not saying that an iWatch

      would be successful. There were many attempts at marketing a tablet that were complete failures until Apple made one and the rest is history.

      We just don't know at this point.