Why an Apple smart watch is a smart idea

By , Jan 4, 2013

iPod nano wristband Phil Schiller

The iWatch meme isn’t going away anytime soon. Quite the contrary, in between an obscene amount of concept renders and latest talk of chip giant Intel and Apple collaborating on a Bluetooth smart watch that reportedly might see light of the day later this year, there really is no shortage of iWatch rumors. As unexpected as such a gadget from Apple might sound, we’re in 2013 and this is Tim Cook’s Apple.

Before dismissing an Apple-branded iWatch as a pipe dream of crazypants analysts, know that technologists are increasingly growing convinced Apple has its sights on the wearable computing space now. Indeed, Cupertino could be closer to remaking the Mickey Mouse watch than you think and here’s why…

For starters, the smart watch space already has a healthy competition going on.

Back in October 2011, I’m Watch launched at a rather steep price of €249, or approximately $340. Basically an Android mini-computer with an ARM IMX233 CPU with 64MB of RAM and four gigabytes of Flash storage, it runs apps optimized for its 1.54-inch 240-by-240 TFT display, ranging from weather and stocks to social news feeds from Twitter, Facebook and so forth.

Im Watch gold 001

Then Sony at CES 2012 unveiled its $149 SmartWatch, also driven by Android, which can pair to any Bluetooth handset to display incoming calls, text and email messages and other snippets of information on its 1.3-inch OLED screen.

Then there is Meta Watch, a startup run by former Nokia and Fossil execs. Their $199 Bluetooth 4.0 smart watch features a three-axis accelerometer, vibrating motor and ambient light sensor and has six fully programmable buttons.

Meta Watch 001

It interfaces with iOS or Android via a custom app which lets you customize which notifications pop up on its 96-by-96-pixel LCD display.

Obviously, none of these products made an impact, but competition goes where demand exists and people do seem to be genuinely interested in smart watches.

iPod nano Mickey Mouse clock face
Apple’s online store sold a range of watch straps for the previous-generation iPod nano.

Case in point: some 70,000 people have already contributed a cool $10 million in Kickstarter funding toward the creation of the Pebble, an iOS and Android connected smart watch.

It’s actually the most highly funded Kickstarter project to date (go figure) and the company is now teasing “something new” at CES as it seems to be finally ready to release the product (the FCC cleared it).

pebble
The Pebble smart watch for iOS and Android.

Another company planning to demo smart digital time pieces at CES: Martian Watches, which touts “the first Bluetooth voice controlled smart watch” that integrates with voice commands on Android devices and talks back to you.

The company also provides tools letting third-parties write a variety of voice-controlled apps to be used with Martian Watches, like this potential Workout Tracker app.

It can be also paired with an iPhone.

If anything, Martian Watches are a good example of how Apple could benefit from building a Siri-enabled, wrist-strappable mini iOS computer.

As you may have realized by now, it’s a pretty competitive landscape out there.

What we also know, from patent filings, is that Apple has been researching various wearable computing applications for quite some time. For example, the company’s patent for “Display Resolution Increase with Mechanical Actuation” outlines a head-mounted digital display akin to Google’s Project Glass eyewear that could be used for various devices, including TV sets.

bits-applehud-tmagArticle

A few years ago, an Apple filing surfaced describing a similar Goggle-like contraption. Apple was also granted a patent for “Peripheral treatment for head-mounted displays”. While not directly related to smart watches, these patents prove Apple is actively dreaming up possible wearable computing applications.

The usually credible New York Times reported December 2011 that a Siri-controlled add-on which interfaces with the iPhone was in the works. Sources told the newspaper that the iPhone maker was experimenting with certain prototype gizmos that could relay information back to the iPhone.

iWatch concept (Anders Kjellberg 002)
An iWatch concept render by Anders Kjellberg.

“These conceptual products could also display information on other Apple devices, like an iPod”, the article says, providing the following example of such a technology:

One idea being discussed is a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist; people could communicate with the device using Siri, the company’s artificial intelligence software.

“The device in question has a 1.5 OLED display with indium tin oxide, or ITO coated glass”, a Chinese-language web site claimed recently, adding Apple will launch the product in the first half of 2013.

Lots of clever writers have since offered their pros and cons.

Jay Yarow of Business Insider thinks the iWatch could be the first step toward complementing your iPhone, writing that only “small-minded people” will scoff at the idea of Apple building a watch.

Just because some people think the smartphone will be consumed by wearable computers, doesn’t actually make it so. This could give Apple a good testing device.

JP Mangalindan opines on the Fortune blog that technology has reached a point where making an iWatch-like gizmo becomes feasible enough to justify an Apple product.

Advances like longer-lasting batteries, smaller accelerometers, and cheaper radio components also have firms such as ARM, Qualcom, and Intel driving the push to stitch circuitry into clothing and apparel.

And what would a high-profile rumor be without the inevitable Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster who predicts that iWatches from Apple would perform closely enough to the iPhone to ultimately become Apple’s best answer to addressing emerging markets.

Curved glass iPod (Federico Ciccarese 003)
There’s no shortage of weird iWatch renders, like this crazy concept by Italian designer Federico Ciccarese.

He also thinks a larger iWatch could prove more popular with men than women:

It is less likely women will embrace them given women’s watches tend to be smaller with a greater emphasis on fashion.

Jordan Kahn writes on 9to5Mac that Apple’s advantage lies in its integrated platform and developer base that the company could tap via an iWatch SDK to build cool apps optimized for tiny screens:

Apple’s ability to tap into its app ecosystem and get developers turning out slick apps for an iWatch might let it get past the biggest problems for smart watches currently on the market: providing users with compelling content on a 1-inch to 2-inch display.

He even speculates that a January or February launch could be likely and points out that the iWatch could be the first iOS device with influence from Apple’s design guru Jony Ive who recently assumed Human Interface Design responsibilities from former iOS chief Scott Forstall.

iWatch concept (Anders Kjellberg 006)
While we’re speculating, perhaps iWatch will be Apple’s first Liquidmetal product?

“It would give Ive a chance to introduce his influence on an entirely new platform— and design the hardware simultaneously”, Kahn predicts.

But can Apple possibly cram up all the components for a really smart watch into such a tiny space?

To see how far along the technology has taken us, one needs to look no further than previous-generation iPod nano, a wristwatch-sized media player with the fluid multitouch controls and nice built-in apps.

iPod nano keynote slide

“One of our board of director members is gonna clip it on to an armband as a watch”, Jobs half-jokingly remarked at a media conference. Some folks interpreted the amusing statement as a sign of things to come.

Power efficiency is of utmost importance for such tiny form-factor devices so Apple might theoretically opt for a custom designed chip boasting a power savy ARM core, Bluetooth 4.0 networking which runs off a coin cell and can instantly wake up connected devices and perhaps even an OLED display.

Note that Apple has rolled out Bluetooth 4.0 across most its devices starting with the iPhone 4S in 2011 to the iPhone 5, iPad mini and latest Macs and full-sized iPads in 2012.

iwatch2 3

Summing up, there is some evidence that Apple is exploring the wearable computing space and while the iWatch talk is mostly speculation at this point, I wouldn’t rule the possibility of an Apple-branded smart watch.

Taking it all in, who’s to say that Apple isn’t interested in creating a Siri-controlled add-on product that interfaces with iPhones, iPods, iPads and quite possibly even Macs?

This niche market is ripe for disruption.

iWatch concept (Anders Kjellberg 003)

Another exhibit: shortly after the Intel-Apple iWatch story blew up, Apple gained four percent so clearly investors believe the company should pursue this opportunity.

And if it takes an Apple-branded smart watch to popularize and mainstream the product category, so be it.

Not sure about you, but I’ve been waiting for a Star Trek Communicator-like wearable computer since the dawn of time.

Please, Apple, I challenge you to take my money.

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  • jose castro

    better idea then the mini iphone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

      i agree

  • http://twitter.com/Mysterious_Kiwi Ben Tindall

    If they pull it off, its an odd idea, but it MAY work. Certainly cannot be above £75, £50 is around the threshold.

    Really on the fence on this idea, i think R&D can go into better places.

    • http://www.twitter.com/macmixing Dom Esposito

      Knowing Apple, it will probably retail for $249. lol

      • Daniel

        199$

        And that gonna be so normal price. So normal.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Cannan/100000630162509 Steven Cannan

        guessing 150$
        Come at me!! im placing bets against this!

      • FabianPVD

        ^ LOL

  • http://www.twitter.com/macmixing Dom Esposito

    Step 1: Spread “Rumors” of an iWatch.
    Step 2: Discontinue sixth generation iPod nano and take out the competition.

    Step 3: Create iWatch.
    Step 4: Profit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

      yes

  • http://twitter.com/IdiotWithAGun Jean Claude Tohme

    Same thing happened when people imagined if Apple made a phone before the iPhone was released… Concepts were crazy but Apple released something crazier that bankrupted the phone companies… When I hear about an iWatch I don’t think about this concept at all… As Apple is trying so hard to get its shine again.

  • Jonathan

    I found Apple’s response to the Nano being worn as a watch, so just providing a few crappy images, absolutely pathetic. When they were announcing this change it was cringeworthy.

    I refuse to wear a watch until it connects to my phone and does something more than tell the time. But so far the current smartwatches either don’t work too well with iOS or are not that great. I wait patiently for the pebble but it seems to turning into vapourware. (And also I dislike its only black and white, even if it is e-ink)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jhonny1x Jonathan Jaimes
  • http://twitter.com/jschor86 J Schor

    Just wanted to share that is a great article. Very well written with great sources and add-ins. I am one of the many who have been long (…long) awaiting their Pebble and am excited to hear the announcement at CES. My fear is that the original due date (6 months ago) would have made the watch a game-changer but now could get lost with all the other devices coming into the market. Nonetheless, I hope all the products help shape Apple’s product if/when it comes out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    its a boring idea

  • nima

    I’m 16 years old and I want to put some cool apps on my iPhone 5, o I forgot I’m not 18 I can’t use a credit card! Instead I will JailBreaK my iPhone 5, oh there is no JailBreaK… Uhh soo I think the only way to get some paid apps and tweaks is for free is android!
    Bye bye iPhone!
    This the story of my life! I really love apple and its past but if it needs to keep up it needs to free up its platform.

    • http://www.twitter.com/macmixing Dom Esposito

      Great idea! Pirate apps on another platform. That will certainly do you some good. (Sarcasm) An open platform doesn’t mean Apple is going to allow pirating. Your comment has absolutely nothing to do with this discussion.

      • nima

        Android is open and people can install whatever they want, as well as pirating

      • http://www.twitter.com/macmixing Dom Esposito

        This is an iWatch article … And yes, by the way, you can purchase an iTunes gift card from Walmart and add it to your account. So really you have no excuse.

      • nima

        Let my point it in another way, I live in Iran and there is no gift card nor credit card. WHAT-the-FuCk!!!! Should I do?…

      • http://www.facebook.com/siggen Sigurd Bøe

        The jailbreak will be out soon, Planetbeing has already made it after new years. While he finishes it up and makes it safe, it will be so close to when apple will release iOS6.1 so it will be released shortly after iOS6.1 instead :D

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Cannan/100000630162509 Steven Cannan

        thats the reason i switched im very pirated

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000514380051 John Sklikas

      I’m also 16 years old but I don’t pirate my apps because I buy iTunes gift cards and I also use FreeMyApps. So your age is not an excuse for piracy. Buy your apps, developers are not fed by air!

      • nima

        Let my point it in another way, I live in Iran and there is no gift card nor credit card. WHAT-the-FuCk!!!! Should I do?

      • http://twitter.com/Chindavon Chindavon

        Throw your iPhone away. You have no hope.

      • nima

        Well I wouldn’t say I won’t have hope, because for every iPhone there ever was there was a JailBreaK and that’s 5/5 JailBreaK iPhones and different ios which makes it a 100% JailBreaK for iPhone 5, the thing I really hate is there is no estimate time for a JailBreaK.
        And the cause of all this pain and stress for a lot of people is apple!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000514380051 John Sklikas

        OK then, create a US account for the App Store (it can be done just google it), and then use FreeMyApps (google: freemyapps)

      • nima

        Well freemyapps is blocked in this country.
        The only way is to buy 50$ gift card for 300$, is it worth it!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000514380051 John Sklikas

        Then check featurepoints.com or FreeAppSlots, they do exactly the same thing with FreeMyApps

      • Nestea80

        If you can’t get something legally, it doesn’t mean you have the right to get it illegally. You blame Apple for not being able to get paid apps for free. That doesn’t even make sense. It’s like me blaming a convenient store for not allowing me to get their stuff for free.

    • http://twitter.com/Chindavon Chindavon

      Good. We don’t need anymore ignorant droid people taking up the iOS space. Good riddens my friend.

      • nima

        Yep

    • Nestea80

      So you’re upset at Apple because now you can’t pirate apps on your iPhone? You’re an idiot. But you’re 16, so I’ll take that as a mitigating factor.

  • http://twitter.com/Khmer9_Web Khmer9.Net

    How To Download And Install Cracked Apps On IPhone Or IPad Running On IOS 6 Without Jailbreak Using KuaiYong

    Original From: http://Www.Khmer9.Net/2013/01/How-To-Download-And-Install-Cracked-Apps-On-Iphone-Or-Ipad-Running-On-Ios-6-Without-Jailbreak-Using-Kuaiyong.Html

  • http://twitter.com/fearns81 Daniel Fearns

    Maybe they made the nano 6 to see what the reaction would be? To see if people would wear it as a watch.

    I’d love it if apple is making one of these :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/rez24 Edwin Anthony Chavez

    YAY lets cram up more information and put it on your wrist so you can see your tweet and catch a wrist cramp. Failed! People wear watches as an accessory. If you want that time and you’re wearing a watch, you look at your cell phone. What makes you think people are going to use it more? Honestly iDownloadBlog needs a section called “What Steve Jobs would NOT approve” section and place this idea in that basket.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000945354629 Avery Massenburg

      The iWatch would be sold AS an accessory, Apple doesn’t expect you to buy everything they make, so just ignore it if you want to. It’s not supposed to replace your phone, just like how Siri doesn’t replace everything iOS does.
      I think Steve Jobs would approve this idea, he even mentioned how clever the 6th Gen iPod was as a watch. (As mentioned in the article)

  • http://www.facebook.com/makedonii Aleksandar Trajkovski

    first of all, and last of all, get the battery life to deliver before making me wanna charge my watch every night as well, its enought with all the phones and tablets i have to deal with. Yeah you can allways make the “watch” run on seperate battery from the “core OS” but still, you get my point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000061961790 Ian Jackson

    I love my MetaWatch STRATA- But if Apple can make one that is better, by all means make it. Wearable tech seems like a market that can become big. and I mean. HUGE. Apple would be foolish to not come in and trump what’s out there already. The MetaWatch is buggier than hell, but it’s a great start!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000945354629 Avery Massenburg

    If Apple DOES make this I would like it to have:

    -Vibration Motor and a loud speaker; for alarms/alerts.
    -Pedometer; you never really realize how useful that is until you have one.
    -Interchangeable watch bands; my current watch has an expandable band, so it’s not super bulky.
    -Microphone; for Voice Control and Phone Calls

    • Matthew

      Camera for FaceTime. And minpc for FaceTime and Siri.

    • Cobaltblue

      And some special functionality features for the watchband, such as customizable color changes for alerts (including the ability to choose colors for individuals in Address Book, just like ring tones, vibrations, incoming texts, etc.) … The colors could also be utilized, for example, for proximity alerts, such asa bus or train, or a friend in Find My Friends, etc. Many possible applications. Apple has a patent from long ago for the original iMac’s shell to be able to change color to alert for new emails, etc.

  • http://twitter.com/Ben_Seiler Ben Seiler

    iSiri, who ever designed that is incredible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pbunyar Paul Bunyar

    It’s about time we caught up with Dick Tracey. I have always wanted his watch. Facetime from the wrist. Cool.

  • disqusted

    Fuck, now I’m gonna have to start wearing wrist watches again? I thought I ditched those in the 90′s!

    EDIT: I’ve reconsidered. I have realized that a wrist watch that I can pull up porn on actually frees BOTH hands, so I can do the ole double-hander “chick & her sister/slutty friend” and as a bonus, never have to worry about dropping my phone while jerking off too violently! Bravo technology!! Progression in regression.