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David Zax

A View from David Zax

Talk to the Hand: An Apple Watch?

Or rather, the wrist. Is Apple looking into an “iWatch”?

  • February 11, 2013

An Apple watch, long whispered about (let’s face it, an Apple anything has long been whispered about) may actually be a reality soon, according to a New York Times report citing those tech-journalism stalwarts, “people familiar with” the matter.

We have no specs on the device, but it seems reasonable to speculate that your cast of favorite Apple characters will be there: Siri, mapping apps, phone functionality, the whole shebang. Strap an iPad nano on your wrist, and you may already have something remotely resembling a stripped-down version of what an iWatch could be.

It stands to be the deluxe version of what the folks over at Pebble have already made (see “A Smart Watch, Created by the Crowd, Debuts in Vegas”). That device has been mostly favorably reviewed; the Verge, for instance, gave it an 8.2 out of 10, largely griping about the black-and-white e-paper screen. Pebble already is an iOS watch, in a sense; it can pair with your iPhone (or your Android), which can pass notifications along to the device.

An iWatch, naturally, would solve a lot of the problems people have been having with Pebble; it’s hard to imagine Apple would skimp on the screen, and obviously interoperability between an iWatch and iPhone shouldn’t be an issue.

Of course, the key feature of a smart watch is that it’s a totally different way of interacting with technology; if Apple entered the game, it would propel the company to the forefront of the frontier of wearable computing. Reports and prying eyes have shown that Apple execs, including Tim Cook, are clearly interested in wearable computing; the CEO has been spotted wearing a Nike FuelBand, for instance. While Google focuses on the eye, Apple may well focus on the wrist (see “You Will Want Google Goggles”).

The NYT report says that two Apple employees said that an iWatch would “stand apart from competitors based on the company’s understanding of how such glass can curve around the human body.” We’ve been talking about bendable phones ad nauseam of late (see “Are Bendable Smartphones the Future?”); suddenly, materials science seems to be the hottest area of computing right now.

On the one hand, it seems a little bit curious that Apple should be claiming this as its competitive advantage; Apple is not known as being particularly expert at materials science, but rather at excelling on user-focused design. But if you think about it, the analog to good UX in wearable computing is to be sure to get the materials right. With the new wave of devices, wearability may be the new usability, and comfort may be the new ease-of-use.

At the end of the day, though, I doubt people will buy an iWatch over a Pebble simply because Apple got the coziest, most bendable glass. If you’re going to buy an Apple watch, at this point, it’s probably because you’re already just as hooked on iOS as me (I’ve owned three iPhones and one iPad in the span of four years, and I’m not even the biggest fan). The smart watch will be yet another vector for iOS to spread its lines of code to new frontiers, and its first and most loyal users are likely to be the people who already have an array of Apple products to begin with.

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