Does Apple Need to get into the Wearable Tech Market?
With the Pebble shipping and rumors of the “iWatch” smartwatch coming from Apple, there’s lots of talk about wearable technology. Is this a market Apple needs to address?
I think Apple should stay away from wearable tech unless the company can disrupt the market much like it did with the iPod, the iPhone, and then with the iPad. I’m betting there are plenty of wearable tech devices sitting in Apple’s labs, but without any of those on store shelves right now it seems pretty likely that there aren’t any market disruptors in the mix… yet.
They already kinda tried wearable tech with the small square version of the iPod Nano (the 2011 version?). They made a point of releasing a large selection of clock faces with it, knowing that people would mount them in wrist bands like watches.
The iPod Nano was not a very good watch in my opinion. I’m picky about the size and style of my watch, and I use it constantly to check the date and time. But using an iPod Nano as a watch was much too large, limited in style choice, and you can’t even see the time without pressing the on button. Obviously if Apple made an iWatch they’d try to address the shortcomings of a Nano as a watch with something that was more directly designed as one.
But what does a smart watch add over a smartphone in the pocket and a conventional timepiece on the wrist? What’s the killer feature?
The Pebble seems to be about customization and open integration with whatever notification and monitoring you could think of. It sounds like they just want to put Notification Center on ones wrist rather than pulling out the phone to check whenever a message or reminder pings. I could see that. My dad used to use his cell phone (non-smart one) as a clock, and I thought it would be horribly annoying to have to pull my phone out to check the time vs. look at my wrist. So maybe notifications about our digital lives could become just as instinctive to instantly check as the time.
But the downside is that you still have to have both smartphone and smart watch on you for the integration to work. Or you start to make the smart watch duplicate smart phone features by adding a cell phone radio in there to receive push notifications. Then you might have to pay another data plan, you have less battery life, and you wonder why you even have a phone because couldn’t the watch be a phone? Ah, but the watch would be a horrible phone (unless you use a bluetooth piece), and it doesn’t do all a smartphone does, so you still need the smart phone too.
So can a smart watch do enough that it’s worth buying, be useful enough that people check it as often as they check the time, but not be too expensive, too demanding of battery, and too much trying to compete with the phone?
I see two major possibilities.
First is Android-style lockscreen widgets. Being able to display data without having to pull your phone out of your pocket and open the app. This can be done like the pebble with bluetooth.
Second is touchscreen controls. Having an iPod Nano-like touch-screen interface which can control your iPod/iPhone without removing it from your pocket, and allow more sophisticated controls than the “forward, back, pause, play” found on most headsets, and a silent alternative/companion to Siri.
The difficulty with wearable computing has been power and interface. Smartphones cracked both of those barriers, but you still need to take the phone out and use the touchscreen directly to make them useful. Anything that offloads the interface to a more convenient alternative, such as affixed to your wrist, is going to improve the experience.
Instant Philosopher; Just add hot topic and stir.