There are two words I try to avoid connecting: “greatest” and”challenge.” Clearly I’ve failed. I try to avoid this phrasebecause it reeks of hyperbole — and yet here I am, typing it out inassociation with Apple’s utterly mythical “iWatch.”
Still, the more I lookahead, the more I realize that Apple’s greatestchallenge might be convincing a world that it can produce an iWatchthat matters.
3 Key Reasons
Consider the abandonment of the watch. As cellphones becamemore and more ubiquitous, users realized that they told time verywell. In fact, by connecting to cellular service towers, theyautomatically adjusted themselves for daylight savings time.
Betteryet, as we traveled into different time zones, mobile phones adjusted. Watches lost their portable monopoly on time. Peoplewho wear watches tend to have a serious need for a wrist-handy clock,use their watch for adventure sports — or more likely, style.
The second issue is mass market demand. Is there a vast consumer needfor a smartwatch that will connect to your smartphone and show youmessages and notifications? That will shoot video and let you reademail? That will answer or launch a voice call? That will track yoursleep and remind you to wear a rain jacket?
No. Not right now. Might that change? Of course, but only if atangible need — at the very least, a perceived need — risesinto global consciousness.
In 2014, demand just doesn’t seem to be all thatstrong, despite a handful of smartwatches that have been trying to get a party going.
iWatch to Crash the Party?
Apple is most definitely late to that party. The Pebble line lit up the eyes of geeks,starting with a screamingly successful crowdsourced funding effort.
Apple’s smartphone archnemesis Samsung delivered the Galaxy Gear(with a Gear 2 version looming soon); Sony delivered its SmartWatch 2; and upstarts like i’m Watch are producing some interesting options.
Meanwhile, Apple partner Nike has the popular fitness trackerbracelet, the Nike FuelBand.
There’s other competition in the burgeoninghealth-band space, too. The most recent one to cross my path is Jawbone’s UP24, which tracks how yousleep, move and even eat — and through its smartphone-connectedapps, presumably help you lead a healthier, more insightful life.
Apple has entered market segments before, redefining them with design,quality, ecosystems (stores, developer tools), and visionary leapsforward in technology and manufacturing. Can it deliver a brand new product thatdepends on style in addition to niche-like desire?
Apple Knows Style
Apple’s design missteps, particularly under the steady hand of JonyIve, have been few and far between. The first iPhone still looks good.A Tangerine iMac looks out of place in a flat-screen world, but thesmooth curvy translucent lines? Still nice.
The point is, most Apple products are items that can stand on their own,appreciated as discrete objects — and none of them need to be worn.
Fact is, day-to-day watches need to match a human’s personality andidentity, first and foremost. A secondary concern is the style andwhether they are right for the occasion — dressed up or dressed down,color, texture, waterproof or durable?
None of these challenges are impossible to meet, but they’re hard. Maybethat’s why Apple seems to be working away in its Cupertino bat cave,trying to make an iWatch more functional, powerful and useful thananything else out there — which brings up a new point: Even ifApple’s iWatch won’t shoot out a spidery cable a hero could swingfrom, each new product that enters the smartwatch space raises thestakes for Apple. Why? There’s more competition Apple needs to best –or ignore in favor of a brilliant focus that will inducepalm-to-forehead why-didn’t-I-see-that-before slaps.
Even as competitors create better and better wearable bands, they’rebusy undermining the space through ideas that solve problems thatdon’t exist… and terrible marketing. There’s a Samsung video abouta guy who woos a girl while skiing — with his Galaxy Gear watch– that is so freakishly bad that it makes me want to avoid allsmartwatches lest I catch the disease depicted in the commercial. Thedisease? A strain of pure idiocy.
Meanwhile, what’s Apple really doing? Apparently working like crazy.The company has hired numerous experts over the last year, presumablyto help with the iWatch development, including a chief medicalofficer, biosensor engineers, a Nike design director, and mostrecently the rumor that Apple hired a sleep expert from PhilipsResearch.
Plus, curved glass rumors persist — not to mention a furiouseffort to produce sapphire glass. While a patent points to the obviousiPhone usage for super-strong glass, it might be even more importantfor a scratch-prone wearable device.
Other rumors have pointed to home automation uses for an “iWearable”device, but smartphones are already unlocking doors, runningthermostats from afar, and dimming lights. The point is, the iWatch ispotentially launching into a fast-moving environment.
Why Not the Apple TV?
So why isn’t the Apple TV Apple’s greatest challenge for the nearfuture? It’s iterative. There is less reputation at stake. Lessinnovation cred to be lost. But the iWatch? A stumble will open up theguts of Apple and indicate a fading company, capable of evolutionarydesign… but maybe not revolutionary products. Lots of Apple geeksare hoping this isn’t the case.
As for me, I’m mostly curious. I haven’t worn a watch in 10 years,much less needed an exercise band to tell me I’ve been busy. I’mApple’s best and worst customer rolled up into one guy: Will I wantone?