Two reports on Sunday lent credence to the idea that Apple’s next big innovation might be a smart watch.
The idea isn’t new, but the rumour mill is gaining momentum, at a time when some Apple investors are becoming impatient for its next blockbuster product.
Speculation about an Apple smart watch started in earnest in October, at the unveiling of the iPad mini and a new range of iPods. The latest iteration of the iPod nano saw Apple end production of its square touchscreen music player, which thanks to accessories such as Luntik’s TikTok could be slotted easily into a watch strap. Senior Apple employees had been spotted sporting the nano on their wrists.
Even before Apple chief Tim Cook had finished unveiling the latest batch of gadgetry, tech watchers were wondering whether the iPod nano changes foreshadowed an iWatch proper, which could send and receive messages with a nearby iPhone.
Reports out of China in December suggested that Apple and Intel were teaming up on a Bluetooth-enabled smart watch.
Since then, several smart watches have emerged, often funded by Kickstarter. The much-delayed Pebble is the best-known, but I’ve also been testing the Martian Watch since it was on show at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
While it is easy to see where the design hand of Sir Jonathan Ive could help Apple improve on the Martian’s design, its simple premise is hard to beat: a Dick Tracy-style talking watch, connecting to the iPhone’s Siri via Bluetooth. One touch of a button and all of Siri’s hands- and eyes-free functions are available, as the Martian Watch lets you send and listen to text messages, check the weather and receive driving directions. The main problem is battery life but the experience is good enough to give a taste of what the vast resources and expertise of Apple might bring to bear on such a device.
Earlier this week, former Apple designer Bruce Tognazzini wrote a lengthy post exploring why he thought an iWatch was Apple’s next great innovation, and referencing the various patents and design expertise that Apple possesses to make it happen. While claiming no inside information, Tog wrote:
“The iWatch will fill a gaping hole in the Apple ecosystem. It will facilitate and coordinate not only the activities of all the other computers and devices we use, but a wide array of devices to come. Like other breakthrough Apple products, its value will be underestimated at launch, then grow to have a profound impact on our lives and Apple’s fortunes.”
While neither referenced Tog’s post, this weekend saw reports from first the New York Times, and quickly followed by the Wall Street Journal, that Apple employees were indeed tinkering with a smart watch.
The Times suggested the watch would run on iOS and have a curved-glass face, while the Journal added that Apple has discussed the device with its manufacturer Hon Hai, aka Foxconn, which has been developing power and display technologies for just such a purpose.
Neither report, however, suggested what the watch might do, how much it would cost or when it would launch. Similarly, rumours of an Apple TV set have been rumbling around for years but have yet to come true. But even as Sony and Microsoft ready their next assaults on the living room with updated PlayStations and Xboxes, it’s becoming clear that the smartphone, not the TV screen, is the centre of many people’s digital lives.
Given the struggles Apple seems to have had navigating the TV industry with its content and delivery fiefdoms, it’s not hard to see why forging into a relatively new market that builds more directly on its success with the iPhone might appeal to Mr Cook and his team – especially when Wall Street is watching the clock as it waits for Apple’s next big idea.
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