Apple shouldn't squander its lead in wearables; an iWatch isn't enough

Apple needs to leapfrog the watch-as-a-remote-control trend and turn the iPod nano into a standalone micro-tablet. iPad nano anyone?

Apple was a pioneer in wearable computer technology, the iPod nano was one of the first truly wearable music players. In fact, people loved the iPod nano so much that a cottage industry developed around turning it into a wristwatch. The problem is that aside from a few novelty clock faces, Apple hasn't innovated in the wearable computing space beyond miniaturizing the iPod.

iPod nano watch faces - Jason O'Grady

One needn't look farther than the rapid success of the Pebble E-Paper watch (below) to realize that wearables are arguably one of the hottest segment in technology right now. Pebble Technology raised more than $3.8 million in a few days, making it the highest-grossing project since Kickstarter was founded. Then there's the Motorola Motoactv, inPulse Smartwatch and the WIMM Watch.

Pebble ePaper wristwatch - Jason O'Grady

Another horse is the growing wearable field is the Sony SmartWatch ($149, below, video). I've been testing one and generally agree with the early reviews from CNET, USA Today -- it's mostly half-baked. But there's a lot that Apple can learn from the Sony SmartWatch and the scores of other wearables that are coming to market.

Is Apple squandering its lead in wearables? Jason O'Grady

Apple needs to add wireless technology to the nano so that it can communicate with iOS and Mac OS devices (Bluetooth at a minimum, Wi-Fi would be nice). Having to plug the nano into a giant USB docking cable to sync music is patently absurd. It's 2012 and high time that Apple embraces wireless sync with the nano.

The iPad nano 6G includes Nike+ functionality which tells you your time, distance, pace, and calories burned as you run, gives you feedback and the details of your workout when you’re done. (The $2 Nike+ GPS app for iOS does the same thing) but like the other the non-music functions on the nano, it's basically window dressing that Apple's chosen to ignore.

Nike+ Apple - Jason O'Grady

A next-gen Apple wearable (like the iWatch concept from ADR Studios, below) needs to do more than play music, much more. Most of the second generation wearables are simply surrogates to a larger host device (an Android phone) and are mostly one-way devices. They can read messages, emails and Tweets but they can't reply. Apple could make the next nano an extension of the iPhone, but that isn't enough.

iWatch concept - Jason O'Grady

An Apple wearable needs to be more like a miniature iPod touch, full featured and enabled with an app ecosystem (sound familiar?). A bunch of pre-loaded first-party apps that don't do anything isn't going to cut it. Apple needs to leapfrog the watch-as-a-remote-control trend and turn the iPod nano into a standalone micro-tablet. In fact, Apple could call it the iPad nano. Now that's something that I could get behind.

What's your take on the wearable trend? What features would you want in a smart watch?