What we think we know about Apple's smartwatch aspirations almost all come down to rumor, speculation, and a lot of pundit-generated fantasy. Even the idea that Apple needs a smartwatch of its own is lightweight to say the least. The idea exists because a few Android players have released a wrist-mounted companion – devices that seem to be about as rare as hen's teeth in the real world – so it follows that Apple needs to also be in this space.
Sure, Apple having its own wearable makes sense – and it makes more sense in light of iOS 8 having HealthKit integrated into it, and the potential interest from corporations and the health insurance industry – but the idea that this is driven by other players entering into the market is nonsense. The Android camp is doing little more than throwing ideas at a wall in the hope that something sticks.
OK, first off, will Apple announce anything to go on people's wrist come September 9? I see three possible outcomes:
No iWatch unveiling at this event (perhaps because it's just a fantasy)
A teaser, with the full unveiling to come later
The iWatch is a simple accessory for the iPhone that needs little in the way of introduction
Given that the Apple event is going to be around a couple of hours long (you have to factor in people's attention spans and their bladder capacities), this doesn't seem enough time for Apple to do the self congratulating bit that always forms part of these events, talk about iOS 8 and OS X 10.10 Yosemite, unveil the iPhone 6 and then go on to unveil and announce a whole new class of product. Which means either no iWatch, or a limited teaser.
OK, so assuming the iWatch exists, and assuming Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about it during next week's event, what's it going to look like?
I can see two directions for an Apple wearable to take:
The iWatch approach: A devices with a display and apps that users will interact with.
An iWearable: Something more analogous to a passive fitness band that logs steps and such.
The iWatch is what the pundits seem to be craving. I've seen reams written about how the iWatch will be akin to a curved iPhone that people have attached to their arms. Some of the mock-ups and write-ups are so ambitious as to be pure science fiction, defying both the known laws of physics and ergonomics. All considerations relating to battery and display technology are dismissed with a nonchalant wave of the hand, and issues of comfort, functionality, and price are conveniently left out of the equation.
While a wrist-mounted iPhone sounds awesome – actually, when I stop to think about it, it doesn't. I honestly don't think even Apple has the tech know-how to build a fully-fledged curved iPhone that would be wrist-mounted, and even if it did, the price would likely be cosmic in scale.
Apple is in the business of building tech for the masses, not toys for billionaires.
Back in July, Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty crunched the numbers and worked out that if Apple could sell 30 million iWatches over a year at $300 each, then this would add a cool $9 billion to the company's revenue pot. That price seems closer to the mark to me than the $400 that's been thrown about over the past few days, but there I'm assuming a device that has a display and does more than passively collect data.
But even at $300, my expectations are high. That sort of money buys you an iPad mini, which while not being wrist-mountable, does a lot of stuff. Despite the obvious love that consumers have for iDevices, they aren't going to throw money at their nearest Apple store for something that doesn't do much, and I think Apple knows this.
While developing a smartwatch that's going to sell isn't easy, right now I think the toughest challenge facing Apple is how to drag people's expectations back down to earth after all the hype and hoopla surrounding this product. It feels like no matter what Apple unveils, it will be a disappointment when compared to the nonsense that's been circulating over the past few months.