Apparently, Apple is planning to launch the mother of all wearables later this year, something that the rumor mill has dubbed the iWatch (of course it could also be the iBangle or the iWrist or something like that). If you can believe most of the reports, told breathlessly by Apple fanboys and fangirls alike, it will be as innovative, if not even MORE innovative, than the iPod and the iPhone combined.
So I got to thinking – what would Apple have to do with a wearable to make it even more innovative than either of those arguably market making devices?
Well, for me, it would have to be:
- Fantastically designed. Some of those curved screen interfaces are cool. If the screen truly did encircle the whole wrist and was able fully change color, chameleon like, that would be interesting. All of the outer surface should be screen. I know that would make many of those fashion conscious users very happy. In fact, that was one of the key issues in wearable adoption that was repeated over and over at the wearables conference that I just attended – it has to be fashionable. It’s no longer fashionable to wear a watch among certain demographic groups, period, so the look of the device has to transcend watch territory and go into fashion accessory land. Apple has proven its design chops, so I’m not too worried about this one, although of late it has trended behind the curve, especially with all these big, beautiful Android based mobile phone screens out there.
- Amazingly useful: Unlike a lot of the single function wearables out there, it should be a fully multi-functional device. Not only does it need the fitness sensors as a base level foundation, it also needs security features (such as the ability to unlock things and confirm my identity) and payment features (I should be able to pay for things just by waving my wrist over a sensor, like when I buy my lattes at the Bucks). It should not just give me a raft of data, but it should also help me use that data in order to change my negative behaviors and reinforce my positive behaviors. I know that a lot of that is on the ecosystem around the device, but for the device to be truly as useful as my smartphone, it will need that ecosystem. This one is a little trickier, but it can be done. Some tech, such as heart rate monitors, which is useful for both health and security (see the Nymi) might require a sensor tight up against the skin, which will restrict the design somewhat. But I’m sure that if it won’t look good, those sensors will go.
- Standalone. This is the kicker: it needs to be able to operate on its own – without my iPhone. That’s right folks, if Apple really wants this device to be truly revolutionary, it needs to be an out-of-the-box replacement for my iPhone, Galaxy S5 or any other device I might be carrying around in my pocket at the moment. It has to include all of the electronics that are in my iPhone, in a beautiful wearable device. It can’t just be a front end to my phone, like the Pebble Watch or the Samsung Gear. It has to literally and truly be the next iPhone – a standalone wearable device which will make me want to leave all of those clunky, chunky rectangles with rounded corners behind.This of course is not so easy – while the tech is there, things like GPS suck up a ton of battery, so the device will require a lot of charging etc. Be very cool if it was a wireless charger which you could just put on your bedside table which charges it while you wear it, and of course track your sleep.
Now THAT’S innovation. But will we see that? Likely not. My gut tells me that the Apple iWatch will be a beautifully designed accessory to the iPhone. All of the fanboys and girls will buy and use them sight unseen. For the rest of us, is the utility of the iWatch simply being an interface to our phone good enough? I’m not so sure.