Telling the Time May Be Apple's Next Big Thing
The Apple rumor mill has been working overtime this week following reports that the company is winding up to make a multifunction watch featuring a new kind of glass. There are already smart watches on the market, however, so for a company with design geniuses who like to "think different," the questions revolve around how Apple would make its mark with wearable computers. Possibilities include app and Siri integration.
02/12/13 2:45 PM PT
Apple is developing a smart watch made of flexible curved glass that will do more than just tell time, according to reports from both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The device would run on iOS, but beyond that it's unknown what an Apple smart watch would be able to do -- for example, which apps would be accessible, whether it would receive notifications, or if it could support Siri or GPS functionality.
An Apple watch wouldn't be the only smart watch on the market: There's the Pebble, a customizable watch that can be synced to iPhones or Android smartphones. Users can choose from thousands of apps for the US$150 device, including many fitness apps, and receive email and phone notifications via the watch.
Apple CEO Tim Cook is said to be a fan of the Nike FuelBand, a device worn on the wrist that measures daily physical activity. Sony and MetaWatch also have smart watches on the market for less than $200 each.
Apple could reportedly separate itself from those devices by making the hardware out of a flexible glass that could bend around a wrist. Corning makes such a product, dubbed "Willow Glass," that the company says is thin and pliable enough to be wrapped around a device or structure. Corning also created the Gorilla Glass found on the iPhone.
Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
Needing Something New
The time is right for Apple to have another gadget in the works, said Jeff Kagan, tech analyst and consultant.
"During this past year, Apple has been asleep at the switch," Kagan told MacNewsWorld. "They typically introduce something big and innovative every few years. The next big thing is late, and that's very un-Apple like."
It would make sense that the next unique device would be a watch, said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.
"A smart watch would be an easier fit into Apple's product line than, say, a television set," Rubin told MacNewsWorld. "They would be easy to sell online and merchandise in its stores. The industry is being driven by mobility, and an Apple watch would tie up some loose ends such as including a Siri initiation point and a way to initiate near field communication transitions without having to pull out one's phone."
Launching a smart watch could also be the start of something new at Apple that's bigger than the watch itself. The company could also use the device as a springboard to launch a new interface, or way of interacting with Apple devices, Rubin noted.
"Apple has historically tied new user interfaces to new device classes," he pointed out. "These include the mouse on the Mac, the click wheel on the iPod and multitouch on the iPhone. An Apple watch could be largely speech-based via Siri but might have some simple apps as the previous iPod nano did. We could also expect Apple to innovate in non-obvious areas such as the clasp."
Creating an Apple-Worthy Watch
Just because it would fit into the product line doesn't make it a done deal, said Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at MobileTrax. Apple is no doubt experimenting with all kinds of tech innovations, but creating a product with the same kind of market impact and profitability as the iPad, iPhone or iPod is a tall order.
"I'm sure that Apple is doing research on all kinds of applications of iOS into many different products, even like putting an iPad in the door of a refrigerator," Purdy told MacNewsWorld. "The question is, how much additional value does this create both for the customer and for Apple?"
To create a product with that kind of balance, Apple has to hit a lot of variables with a smart watch, with the most important being price.
"Most of the crowdfunded smart watches we're seeing today are between $99 and $199," Rubin said. "Apple would probably be in the middle to upper half of that range based on where the old iPod nano was."
The time is right, and Apple certainly has the capability to launch a smart watch beyond what the market has seen, said John Feland, CEO and founder of Argus Insights. That just means, however, that the pressure is on for the company to deliver.
"If it competes with the devices today, Apple will offer a twist not yet seen," Feland told MacNewsWorld. "A well-designed, cleverly integrated watch would be the visible marker of a cool, high-end product that would resonate with consumers. What would happen when you mash FitBit, Pebble and an iPhone? It had better be magic."