The rumor mill is alive and well, churning out tidbits regarding Apple and their new smartwatch. It would be a big gamble, and a segment of the market that is unproven. It’s Apple, so we know it will be good hardware, but it could be a disaster in every other sense. Do consumers even want an iWatch? We don’t know what we want yet; Apple hasn’t told us.
What’s an iWatch?
We don’t know anything solid, but the little we do know suggests one thing: Apple is serious about having wearable technology on the wrist. Stories of a revamped iOS for the smaller screen seem legitimate, and there is allegedly a small army working on the device. It’s hard to think Apple would invest all that time, effort, and resource into a mere project. Even Foxconn, Apple’s chinese manufacturing partner, is saying Apple has approached them about specs for an iWatch.
As I write this, we know next to nothing about an actual, working model. What we’re sure of is that Apple is keen to be first to the market with a really good device, which is their preferred method for entering a sector. For now, all we know a device is being imagined within Apple, and it seems nearly ready to launch.
Why it could work
Smartwatches exist, they’re just not very good or popular. The most common of the lot, the Pebble, is extremely rudimentary and crude. Handy, sure, but not a deal maker. The smartwatch still needs to tether to a device like a smartphone, meaning it’s really there as a means of convenience. For most, the cost/benefit ratio is too skewed to purchase one. A great toy for the tech addicted, but not something most see a lot of benefit in.
This gap in the market is glaring. We have toys, but no devices. Apple usually comes to market with great pieces of hardware, backed up by some very solid software. If they’re truly rebuilding iOS to work on the small screen, Apple will have defined smartwatches. It’s not wearable tech that turns us off, it’s functionality. Apple has a knack for identifying needs in the market, and fulfilling those needs nicely. If they can do that with an iWatch, they’ll have our attention once again.
Where to begin?! We’re talking about a smartwatch, first of all. There is no proven market for them… just those who like new toys to tinker around with. There is also no demand, as wearable technology in general is a radically new concept. It's a tough road to travel, especially if you're trying to set the pace.
What is the point?
Many of us don’t see a point to smartwatches right now. We get updates, check email, and control our music… but that’s about it. They’re not standalone devices, so they hold no true merit. Unless Apple has some ace up their sleeve, we’ll get the same overblown claims of “reinvention” with nothing to back it up. I don’t care much for how stylish the device is or isn’t, as that’s all subjective, but the functionality has to be sublime.
The watch is not enough
If (and that’s a big if) Apple comes through, and gets cellular functionality in the watch, it still won’t be enough. A data plan for the watch makes it better, and actually smart, but a smartwatch has other failings. If you believe Sergey Brin about smartphones being emasculating, just try staring at a tiny watch. Then try hacking out an email on it. Tell me how you feel then. We need something else to go with it, like Google Glass. The combination of the two would be amazing. Expensive, but amazing.
It’s Apple, it’s a new product, and it’s highly anticipated. Our expectations are through the roof for them. If it doesn’t have holograms or spew candy, we’re going to hate it. That’s a problem with our perception, but one Apple has created. Time and again they inform us how they have reinvented or otherwise radically changed something, even when it was a minor upgrade.
The iPod set a standard. The iPhone set a standard. This iWatch must do for its genre what those devices did for theirs. The iPod just about killed CDs, and the iPhone ushered in a new era of smartphone functionality. When Apple swings, they tend to hit home runs… so the iWatch will have to be a big hit.
This is the elephant in the room nobody is addressing, so I’ll feed him some peanuts. An iWatch would represent the first major new product since Jobs’ passing, and the first being sold to us from the start by Tim Cook. Say what you like about him, but Steve Jobs had a flair for this… a certain humanity to him, backed by a fervent belief in what he was saying that shone through. Steve was different… love him or hate him, he was great for Apple.
Tim Cook isn’t like Steve Jobs, and never will be. I’m sure he has his strengths, but it’s nearly impossible to follow Steve Jobs, especially when it comes down to making a presentation. If Tim Cook can’t muster some good ‘ol fashioned charisma, the iWatch may be doomed.
The Apple niche theory
There is a trend Apple tends to follow. It happened with the PC market, and it’s happening with smartphones. The portable music player is becoming less necessary or important, but they followed a similar arc there, as well. Apple may, in many respects, be a one trick pony.
Let’s take the PC market as our example. While they may not have technically created the PC, they definitely made it mainstream. They made affordable, cool computers that gave consumers exactly what they wanted. We all clamored to get one, and they were flying off the shelves. There was a computer in just about every home, and plenty in our schools, all thanks to Apple.
With the rise of Microsoft, Apple’s market share began to dwindle. There wasn’t much they could do about it, either. They were a self-contained company, controlling all aspects of the device. Microsoft simply put their OS on any computer that wasn’t Apple, paving the way for control of the market. As Microsoft grew, Apple was relegated to a small portion of the market they (in many ways) created.
Apple has a propensity to just blow up a sector of the market, then retreat to a niche within it. Their products are always superb, but they don’t have the innovation to stay ahead of the pack. The iWatch would probably be no different. Unless Apple owned just about every patent necessary for smartwatches to be great, there’s no reason to believe this trend would change.
If Apple does come to market with an iWatch, it could be groundbreaking. Like all their other devices, it will likely set the standard for the market. We’ll probably ooh and aah, then curiously make our way to the Apple store.
After the initial curiosity… we’ll look for an Android alternative. If it’s not there, we’ll wait for one, or simply give up on them and wait for Google Glass. Nothing about this particular device will make anyone feel as though they need it, much less jump ship to Apple. Unless this alleged device is somehow a game changer, we’ll be left to criticize Tim Cook’s leadership again. We can’t imagine how a smartwatch would be a must-have device, and that’s what Apple banks on… that we’ll “need” their stuff.
Make no mistake, an iWatch would be a do-or-die moment for Apple. This is the first huge project without Steve Jobs, and a market that is just beginning to blossom. In just about every way, this is Apple’s time. The iTV concept seems to have been shelved, making the iWatch a new focus for Apple enthusiasts.
Stock prices have been dropping steadily for Apple, and their product line has stagnated. For the past year or two, we’ve been getting humdrum products and minor OS upgrades. Nothing revolutionary, or even timely, has come from Apple in quite some time. For the first time in a long time, it feels like Apple needs us more than we want them.
The company line you’ll hear from Apple is “we’re in it for the long haul.” That’s a great way to shut people up for a limited time, but unless we start seeing some actual innovation from Cupertino, there may not be a long haul. We like having Apple around, but unless they come through on this iWatch concept, iDon’t see the honeymoon phase lasting much longer for Tim Cook.