April 19, 2014

Apple: The Watchmaker

This morning I woke up to a surprising amount of chatter discussing the sudden rumor that Apple is working with Intel to build a smart watch. After mulling it over a little, I think there are some interesting tidbits to tease out of that rumor.


1. The first thing that came to mind was how Phil Schiller excitedly talking on stage at the 2011 iPod event about how many people were using the iPod nano as a watch. In fact, Apple marketed the last generation of that design as an excellent watch, shipping the nano’s firmware update with a handful of new clock faces. If memory serves, Apple even produced their own proprietary watch band for that last generation. For a company so excited about this feature, they were very quick to revise the hardware into a completely new design in 2012, seemingly abandoning the notion overnight. What if they instead refocused their efforts and decided to ensure the nano stayed an iPod while the new device became an entity all its own?

2. Having the nano as a standalone watch is a bit of a misfit for the majority of Apple users. A very large portion of Apple’s customer base use iPhones, which would make that watch-able nano have almost no appeal beyond its portability and its glance-ability. Those two things could be a goldmine if executed correctly, and I think it’s clear that people don’t want to pay $150 for a task they can use a little extra energy and simply pull the phone from their pocket, or just buy a real watch. Apple has an opportunity to reinvent the “watch” as a hub for glance-able information in a way that no one else can, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they try.

3. Kickstarter has shown us that people are very interested in concepts like the Pebble watch, but it has also shown us that such projects are difficult to get to take off beyond backers for the idea. I distinctly recall Tony Fadell discussing that very problem at LeWeb 2012 while talking about Nest. I personally think the Pebble is a fantastic concept, but I am sure that Apple would sherlock them in a heartbeat if they saw potential to build something wonderful that people would buy.

4. What’s the significance of an Intel partnership? Well, among other things, Apple may want to restrengthen ties with Intel since they need to pivot and recover from their losses in the mobile space. In my opinion, such a watch wouldn’t even need to have an ARM processor (although that would of course seem to be ideal). Perhaps Intel already has some IP in this space? It’s hard to say, but with Apple running as hard as they can away from Samsung and Google, I don’t think Intel’s involvement should necessarily discount the possibility of Apple building this thing.


The next question is of course whether this thing would have an SDK? I’m sure there are arguments to the contrary, but I really don’t think it would be necessary. I think Apple is actually pretty likely to dabble in this space, but I think the device will be cheaper and essentially rely on existing iOS technologies like Notification Center. Almost like providing an SDK for the Apple TV has thus far not made enough sense, I think this watch-like device would also be shunned from (official) developer access. With a screen that size and the intention being glance-ability, I don’t think that’s a problem.

Of course, all we can do is wait, but I think the prospect of an Apple watch-like device is very exciting and would be quite useful. There’s a lot of potential there for innovation and I’m anxious to see what (perhaps if) they come up with in 2013.


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