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The iWatch is coming. And even though Apple has yet to admit to working on any such project, the idea is so ingrained in the public psyche that if the mythical device doesn’t appear, Apple’s stock – and reputation – would likely take a significant hit.
Apple hasn’t even used the ‘i’ word yet, but Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has at least stated their interest in wearable technology. At the D11 conference in 2011, Cook himself suggested that wearables are “incredibly interesting,” and could be a “profound area” if done right. “I see it as a very important branch of the tree,” he said. “I think the iPhone pushed us forward fast and the tablet accelerated it. I think wearables could be another branch.”
Indeed, with the iPhone in its eighth year, Apple desperately needs a new product line, and the focus on multi-device integration that goes hand in hand with wearable tech could see the iPhone given its own brand new lease of life. Though how big wearables will be is still out for debate.
“There are lots of gadgets in this space right now,” Cook said, “but there’s nothing great out there. None of them are going to convince a kid that hasn’t worn glasses or a band to wear one. At least I haven’t seen it. There are a lot of problems to solve in this space… It’s an area that’s ripe for exploration. Lots of companies will play in this space.”
No kidding: the market is likely to get saturated pretty quick. The Pebble smartwatch has now sold over 400,000 units – not bad for a Kickstarter project. Samsung quickly entered the fray with its disappointing Galaxy Gear, but you can be sure that’s not the end of the Korean company’s efforts. And as well as Google Glass, its head-mounted display, Google also recently announced Android Wear, an OS for smartwatches.
“We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible with mobile technology,” commented Google’s Senior Vice President of Android, Chrome & Apps, Sundar Pichai. “That’s why we’re so excited about wearables – they understand the context of the world around you, and you can interact with them simply and efficiently, with just a glance or a spoken word.”
The reveal of Android Wear was promptly followed by product announcements from Motorola and LG. It would be easy to dismiss these early entrants as just piling on the bandwagon, but LG’s G Watch and the Moto 360 aren’t just clunky me-too devices: they actually look really good. Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on quality designers, and the longer it waits, the higher Apple’s competitors will raise their game.
Signs of the time
Cupertino might still be pleading ignorance, but the evidence for an iWatch has reached ‘smoking gun’ levels. Only recently, it was reported that Apple had been approaching Swiss watchmakers to form a strategic partnership, in exchange for their expertise in design and metallurgy.
But whatever form the device takes, it looks increasingly like it’s as much of a health and fitness tracker as a time and social media monitor. In fact, analysts have suggested the devices could be subsidized by health insurers.
In the last few months Apple has hired at least four employees from medical research companies, including Nancy Dougherty from Sano Intelligence, whose CV includes a heart rate and respiratory monitor and a sensor-equipped patch that observes glucose levels and kidney function. The other employees all have similar biomedical and technology backgrounds – and we suspect they’re not working in Apple’s on-site sickbay.
Further indications of the device’s fitness credentials came in December of last year, when a group of high-ranking Apple execs met with prominent members of the US Food and Drug Administration. The subject of the meeting was marked in the FDA’s public calendar as ‘Mobile Medical Applications.’ Then, just recently, an Apple patent for ‘Wrist Pedometer Step Detection’ surfaced, which uses algorithms to accurately identify walking or running movement, as opposed to the user just waving their arms about.
And as if that wasn’t convincing enough, Apple is supposedly including an app called Healthbook in iOS 8. It’s a program that could track things like weight, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar and so on.
With 74 percent of Americans deemed overweight (and 66 million technically obese), Apple may well be on to something here. A device that can tell the time AND save your life? We can see the TV ads already.