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 funiPod-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.