Devices Opinion

What’s that you say about an Apple iWatch?

The Apple iWatch story has given an array of bloggers a bit of cheer in the run up to the New Year, hasn’t it? The millions of page impressions will have kept a few churnalists and six-pence-a-post-experts in mince pies, no doubt.

But has the concept of wearable computing and Apple got legs? Yes.

Well, we know this. You’d have to have a technology heart made of stone to not be turned on by the concept of inching your wrist to the right slightly to check your email. More than that, Kickstarter has proved the fiscal reality: People will pay for this stuff.

Which must have had the upper echelons of Apple smiling with relief.

Just where do they go next? Even though Apple feels very much like the most profitable company in the history of the known universe, that is not reflected in their stock price. Nor is it reflected in the reports from the anal-ists who are now floundering rather dramatically. I remember speaking to one chap from one very well regarded firm just a month ago. He was pointing out that they reckoned Apple was “out of ideas” after the iPad Mini.

A ridiculous proposition. But it seems to be one that’s doing the rounds. If your Apple worldview is based on iPod-iPhone-iPad, then yeah. There’s a heck of a lot more for them to do.

Wearable computing is a good way ahead. Indeed it’s incredibly safe.

The monumental challenge Apple face is that they’re now invested. They can’t change easily. Billions and billions of dollars of profits, revenues and share valuations now rest on Tim Cook et al making the right call. Serious people seriously care about what Apple does. Serious folk will go flipping crazy if Apple screw stuff up. There is no Jobs halo effect.

So get it right Apple.

The recent Maps debacle highlights just what happens when executive attention is focused on other areas: Clearly nobody noticed what an absolute dud they’d delivered until it was too late to change.

So the company needs a winner. A new winner.

They can’t change the basic iPhone beyond prettying it up a bit more for the next generation, stick in a few more pieces of RAM, etc. It’s just too risky now. They cannot afford to screw things up and have a consumer backlash.

iOS is already looking increasingly dated. For years I’ve been banging on about the “Fisher Price” iPhone with, I think, merit. However the simplistic nature of iPhone is what’s made it such a success. I still enjoy using the interface. I have to admit that, yes, I do delight in the simplicity of the Fisher Price iPhone now and again.

The market is moving on, though. And getting the incremental upgrade path right is going to seriously tax the folk at Apple.

So wearable computing would give them a few more years of stellar returns. Easy returns. As many have pointed out, the fact some folk actually wear the Apple iPod Nanos as wristwatches demonstrates the validity of the concept.

The stage is set for a wearable revolution. Apple is beautifully positioned for it, too. The app store, the ecosystem, the volume, the attention of the influencers. It’s possible to argue that Apple only has to announce “iWear” and before you know it, they’ll have created yet another $10 billion-in-a-half-year division.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

9 replies on “What’s that you say about an Apple iWatch?”

There may or may not be a watch, but I believe the next big thing from 1 Infinite Loop is home automation. The writing’s on the wall. I suspect they allowed Nest (not an Apple product) to exist in the Apple Stores so they could keep a keen eye on the sales. Nest sold out all their stock in 2012 and had to stop taking orders.

Heating, Lighting, Apple-compatible fridges, kettles and coffee machines etc. etc. from third parties – LG seems a good potential partner here as they’re in the smart appliance space already. The software’s easy, the hardware’s all been done before. It’s the integration of the two, as always, that Apple will hit out of the park. And you’ll be controlling it all with your voice through Siri.

“Tea, Early Grey. Hot.”

Exciting times.

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. I LOVE it Jay. Love it.

Here’s the question: Does Apple need to actually dominate that specific industry itself? Do they need to actually make the equipment or simply just allow the ecosystem to do it’s thing?

Not sure I agree about stock price Ewan. Are you comparing it with the silly over $700 price earlier in the year, then yes, its low. But from 1 year ago, it has grown by an amount many companies would kill for?


Kev I should qualify that by saying I’m reflecting what a lot of people are saying — and I agree it’s patently ridiculous as they are still doing stupendously well!

There are several layers to the stack as I see it:

1. The UI;
2. The API that the UI talks to;
3. The API-to-Hub protocol;
4. The Hub-to-Appliance protocol;
5. The Appliances themselves (this includes things like smart plugs that you can plug your dumb lamp, smart bulbs etc.).

Of these, I think Apple are the control plane – they own and standardise the protocols (perhaps acquire X10 in the process?), the APIs, and they’re the exclusive provider of the Hub (a modified Airport/Airport Express, I suspect), but the rest is an ecosystem of partners and, hopefully, hackers who can integrate into it.

Sadly, and I think most likely, they could go the other way and just work with one partner and keep it all locked up – it wouldn’t be the first time.

The UI is the sticking point. I would hope that the UX would primarily be via Siri, though of course there’ll be an app too. But in order to create an ecosystem for LG, Philips and whomever to develop their appliance-specific controls, they’d need to create APIs to the app, as well as Siri.

The app is easy – probably just a more convenient way to see/manage your scheduled on/off’s, colour of your lights and whatnot (and later on, perhaps a more dials ‘n widgets interface to see historical temperatures or expose more advanced features).

But.. Siri? It irritates me to no end that Apple have done so little with Siri. Home automation aside, we’ve yet to see anything of an API for it – the biggest iteration we’ve seen so far since it’s launch is sports results. Rarely have I seen such a blatant squandering of awesome technology.

There are a small enough number of appliances in the home to just do this on an ad hoc basis directly with the partners, rather than go to the trouble of creating an API, and as this is the path of least resistance for them I think this is the route they’ll go down (and push a Siri API even further down the roadmap).

If the net result is holistic control of the home either way, then does it need a developer ecosystem around it? I’m not sure, and I think it’ll be a great leap forwards either way. Sure, the algorithms around intelligently managing the temperature of your home may be more expediently refined with thousands of hackers working on it, but Nest seems pretty smart as-is, and there’s only so many ways to boil a kettle.

As a side-note, this is all bound to annoy Microsoft, who for some reason have done precisely nothing in this space despite, ironically, it being Bill Gates who had the [original] vision of the smart home in the 90’s. I suspect that when this comes out, his home where he personally spent $100 million in 2007 to implement it will start to feel pretty antiquated.

Apple should connect with Leap Frog and capture the next generation when they are four years old. Teenagers are too old. Pre-school is the new frontier.

An iwatch should have Siri compatible with NFC capability bluetoothing directly to the iPhone with notifications as well

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