Rumors have abounded this month that Apple is designing a smart watch—maybe even a flexible-glass, slap-bracelet type of device. As cool as that sounds, an “iWatch” needs to be equal parts form and function for working adults to take it seriously. There’s still no confirmation that such a device is being developed, but let’s consider what it would take for it to have a serious impact on mobile productivity.
Businesses are still coming to grips with the consumerization of IT and the BYOD (bring your own device) trend, with smartphones and tablets entering the workplace. Wearable tech could bring a whole new shift in mobile computing. What if an iWatch were a mobile command center that lets you get things done more efficiently? You could read email, check your schedule, set reminders, and video conference right on your wrist. An added bonus is that you’re less likely to drop or lose a device worn on your wrist.
Origins of the ‘iWatch’
I got an iPod Nano and an accompanying band to wear the device as a watch for Christmas in 2011. It’s impressive as a watch, with a variety of clock face designs to choose from, a built-in radio, Nike+ fitness functionality—and it syncs up with music and photos from my PC. But, it’s not an iOS device, and doesn’t really live up to its potential.
Instead, Apple developed a new model of the iPod Nano last year. The 7th generation Nano is no longer square, so it’s incompatible with the diverse array of iPod Nano watchbands on the market, and there’s no more iPod Nano-as-watch at all.A year ago I wrote about why Apple should take the iPod Nano-as-watch concept to the next level, and figure out how to pair it up as an extension of the iPhone. Other wrist-based technology like the Nike Fuelband or the Pebble smart watch are very popular, so it only makes sense that Apple should seize the opportunity.
Rumors and speculation
Still, demand appears to exist for an Apple smart watch, and maybe Apple really is working on such a device. I recently hypothesized that an Apple iWatch could be a standalone iOS device, a gadget that pairs up with an iPhone, or maybe even an iPhone replacement that you can wear on your wrist.
Nickolay Lamm, an independent marketing consultant, has put some thought into the matter, and did a little digging to come up with a vision of an iWatch. Lamm expects that Apple’s goal would be something revolutionary than just following the crowd with a plain, Apple-branded smart watch.
“A simple Google image search of [Apple designer] Jonathan Ive yielded the types of watches he wears, which are all normal-looking, albeit expensive watches,” Lamm told me “I also found out that he is good friends with Marc Newson, who designs Ikepod watches. I felt that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that Newson would influence Ive’s watch design.”
Lamm focused on an Apple patent that outlines a spiral interface for navigating apps and imagined that “if the Ikepod Geneve Horizon series had a touchscreen, it would look almost like the first iPhone, in circular form.”
As a result, Lamm developed this imagining of an “iWatch” concept: a classy, stylish watch that combines the functionality of iOS apps in a spiral design that could be navigated in a manner similar to the touch wheel on the original iPod.
A mobile revolution
What if Apple created such a device, running standalone iOS apps, and pairing wirelessly with an iPhone to display alerts, incoming calls, maps, and other information on your wrist? It would redefine how we interact with mobile devices, and reinvent the watch just as Apple reinvented the smartphone.
It wasn’t that long ago that business professionals were satisfied with their simple mobile phones—and then along came the iPhone and iPad. There’s no clamoring demand for a wrist-based extension of the smartphone, but it’s the type of device Apple could introduce to fill a need people don’t even realize they have.
An iWatch like the one Lamm envisioned would be awesome for mobile productivity. With a microphone and speaker (or at least a headphone jack) it can act as a wireless conduit for Siri inquiries, or provide wrist-based, turn-by-turn navigation. It can also notify you of reminders, calendar events, and other alerts forcing you to dig the iPhone out of your pocket or purse. And if Apple can build the wireless technology into the iWatch itself, perhaps the iPhone would become obsolete.
Tony is principal analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group, providing analysis and insight on tech trends. He is a prolific writer on a range of technology topics, has authored a number of books, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.