Pebble’s display is bright and easy to read in direct sunlight. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired


It isn’t a matter of “if” Apple creates a smartwatch, but rather “when.” And “why.”

Moving into the hot “wearables” market with a smartwatch would allow Apple to compete against upstarts like Pebble and seasoned stalwarts like Sony and capitalize on a trend that is sweeping the industry — as shown by the vast number of “wearable” computing devices seen at CES this year. Companies like Nike, Adidas and Motorola are expected to ship 90 million wearables by 2017, and there’s no way Apple would miss out on a piece of that action. A smartwatch would also help complete Apple’s product lineup since the company abandoned the wrist-wearable, square-shaped iPod nano in favor of a larger-screened version.

“The overall trend is that computing is diversifying, and the body is the next frontier for computing,” said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. “It would seem strange for Apple to have no goal in shaping what that next phase of computing looks like.”

There’s been a number of signs suggesting Apple is hard at work on a gadget to revolutionize the smartwatch space. There are reports that Apple may be working with Intel to develop a smartwatch with a 1.5-inch PMOLED display. Apple’s investment in curved display technology also would work beautifully on a wearable product. And don’t forget that countless people wore the iPod Nano as a wristwatch — using third-party bands sold in Apple stores.

A smartwatch-size display certainly would fit nicely into Apple’s product lineup, which features mobile and desktop devices in a wide a variety of form factors. At the small end, you’ve got the display-less iPod shuffle, followed by the rest of Apple’s iPod and iPhone lineup, up to the 4-inch iPhone 5. With a hole in the 5- to 6-inch “phablet” area, the 8-inch iPad mini and full-size iPad models round out Apple’s offerings on the mobile front. Then you’ve got the 11-, 13- and 15-inch MacBook Air and Pro laptops, followed by the largest-screened iMacs and Cinema Display.

Besides the aforementioned phablet space, which would be an evolutionary addition like the iPad mini, Apple could add something a bit more “revolutionary” at either end of the spectrum — something small and wearable, or large, like an Apple television. But there are a number of difficulties associated with debuting the sort of game-changing TV we’d expect from Apple, and given the recent surge of wearable technologies, a wrist-worn computer makes much more sense in the near term.

How so?

Apple doesn’t typically invent a new market segment, but enter established ones where it sees great opportunity. There are plenty of iOS-compatible wearable devices already out there now — the Kickstarter-backed Pebble smartwatch is a notable newcomer, and with Martian watches andMetawatches are other options. Sony’s smartwatch is currently an Android-only model. So the time is right for Apple to jump in the pool.

“Apple tends not to be the first,” Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini of the Nielsen Norman Group, told Wired. He’s an expert in human-computer interaction, and spent 14 years at Apple in human interface design. “Apple tends to let other people make the mistakes, then wait till the technology is ready and come out with a product that really solves the problem.”

He believes current smartwatches fail in a couple of key areas: in overall design, with charging, and the need for buttons and menu trees on-device. With Jony Ive at the helm of Apple, we can expect sleek, unobtrusive hardware that meshes with current products. Apple’s previous experience with small devices like the iPod paired with Siri’s voice control will eliminate the need for complicated onscreen menus, or anything more than basic touch controls. Device charging is perhaps the most problematic area. People who wear watches tend to wear them all the time, and the tiny batteries needed to power them keep them going for years. Some wearables last a week, tops, but most need to be charged daily.

Rotman Epps surmises Apple could differentiate itself from competitors in two important ways: display technology and multifunctionality. Apple has made a name for itself with stunning displays, particularly the spectacular Retina Display devices, while providing better battery that meets or exceeds that of its competitors. That will be an advantage in the wearable space.

And in each of the areas Apple has recently “revolutionized” — the iPod, with MP3 players; the iPhone, with the smartphone space; and the iPad, with tablets — the major thing Apple accomplished, besides delivering a product with an easy-to-use interface and slick industrial design, was create a product that was multifunctional. Apple’s established a rich third-party developer ecosystem that can enhance a product far beyond its initially imagined capabilities. Creating an app ecosystem is a challenge for smaller smartwatch makers, like Pebble, who must partner with other hardware companies like Twine or app-makers like Runkeeper.

This is why current smartwatches stick to a fairly predictable repertoire of abilities, including relaying notifications from your phone (like voicemails, e-mails, tweets, and texts), tracking basic health and fitness stats using an accelerometer and gyroscope, and providing information on the weather. Bluetooth 4.0 lets these devices integrate with your mobile device using very low power. But with deep iOS integration, Siri, and third-party apps, Apple’s smartwatch could go so much further down the rabbit hole and truly bring computing to your wrist.

Tognazzini notes in a blog post that the smartwatch could act as a passcode for your iPhone — rather than needing to manually enter some digits to unlock your handset or adjust settings, the watch’s proximity would let your iDevice know that it is you, and not an impostor, trying to access the device. Similarly, the smartwatch could integrate with the Find My iPhone feature to make finding your misplaced phone or tablet as simple as issuing a command into your wrist-worn computer. A watch could also act as a portal to Passbook, he said, with the Apple-made app’s alerts and barcodes popping up on your wrist instead of on your handset. When you’re hustling through the airport, for example, that means one less thing you’ve got to dig out of your pocket in order to get through security.

We also could see an Apple smartwatch controlling third-party accessories and devices, like aBluetooth toy car, the temperature and conditions inside your home, or household appliances. It could also act as a remote control — for that rumored Apple television, perhaps? — or even be used in correcting Apple Maps.

While the smartwatch space has been slowly growing since around 2006, when Metawatch first started creating Bluetooth watches, it’s only just begun to mature in recent years. When will Apple join the fray? Based on the maturity of the space, and the lack of prototype leaks, I would expect we’d see it late this year or next year.

source : wired


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