updated 07:10 am EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
Only Apple is capable of delivering the first compelling smartwatch
Apple has been long been rumored to be working on a smartwatch widely referred to as the iWatch thanks to some Apple trademark applications surfacing. However, even though the product hasn't yet been revealed some naysayers like the notorious Apple sceptic John C. Dvorak have already started to write off the device before it has even been released. Similar conclusions were also drawn about Apple's iPhone and iPad by Dvorak and others before each was released; but both as we know have been phenomenally successful. While it seems less likely that an iWatch will have the same widespread appeal as either the iPhone or iPad, there are several signs that suggest that Apple will once again succeed in a market where others have thus far failed to inspire.
Wearables is a nascent market ripe for innovation:
Since rumors first surfaced that Apple was working on smartwatch, there has been a rapid rise in the number of smartwatches that have hit the market. This was in full evidence at Computex Taipei 2014. Wearables are generally being tipped as being one of the next big growth areas in consumer technology with estimates placing the value of wearables market at anywhere between $8 - $15 billion. This pales in comparison to the size of Apple's iPhone business which reached a massive $19.75 billion sales in Q2 this year alone. Apple's iPad also raked in close to $6 billion in Q2 alone as well, making any Apple move into the wearables segment a relatively niche business for the tech giant by comparison. However, there are still good reasons for Apple making its presence felt in the wearables market as an iWatch will still add solid revenue growth for the company, while also helping to make the iPhone even more indispensable for many users.
Sony SmartWatch 2 is a solid product, but not compelling
Smartwatches have failed to take off thus far because they have yet to offer compelling innovation. They currently do little more than replicate the features and functions of a smartphone, acting simply as a dumb terminal for remotely receiving notifications and remotely controlling certain smartphone functions. However, unlike what John C. Dvorak proposes in his article dismissing the iWatch, it does not need to become a standalone Dick Tracy-like iPhone on a wrist either. Voice control is one thing, but being able to take and make phone directly calls from one's wrist sans-smartphone is not necessarily what people are looking for from a smartwatch. Even if Apple did add that capability to the iWatch, it seems highly unlikely that it would make that a feature dependent on the device having its own cellular connection.
Timex Ironman GPS+ is one of the new breed of connected smartwatches
In today's smartphones, the phone function on a smartphone is reduced to being just another app among many other apps that are used for communication - making phone calls is only the fifth most used function on smartphones. When you add in all the other apps and functions commonly used on a smartphone for that simply can't be replicated on a tiny smartwatch display and the shocking battery life such a device would have, you realize that trying to make a Dick Tracy-like smartwatch verges on the ridiculous. Even the new connected Ironman GPS+ smartwatch from watchmaking giant Timex doesn't really offer widespread appeal, although its connectivity with the AT&T network many appeal to a niche market of joggers - but then again, who really wants to add an additional ongoing data plan for your smartwatch on top of a smartphone and tablet plan?
Android Wear isn't the solution either (at least, yet):
Google's Android Wear recently hit the market in tow with a couple of lack luster devices. Neither the LG G Watch or the Samsung Gear Live have done much for the smartwatch cause. Compared to established Android-based smartwatches like the Sony SmartWatch 2, there is nothing especially compelling about , Android Wear, even if it brings Google Now and voice control to smart watches for the first time. However, neither Android Wear launch device has particularly good battery life, with both lasting just one day on a charge. This compares with Sony's SmartWatch 2, which lasts up to several days on a charge. If Sony is able to integrate its SmartWatch 2 with its health-oriented SmartBand in a future Smartwatch 3 while maintaining battery life, it will get closer to what Apple seems to have planned.
LG G Watch is one of the first to run Android Wear, but is lackluster
Samsung, which typically has adopted a scattergun approach to any consumer electronics category it enters, has launched multiple smartwatches variously running its own version of Android, its own Linux-based Tizen OS, and most recently Android Wear. Yet, the closest it has come to making an authentically useful device is the Galaxy Gear Fit, athough even it has been met with mixed reviews and limited success. Beta testing hardware and software products through the paying public is not something that Apple would ever inflict on its users, especially just for the sake of being first to market. Still, there will always be early adopters willing to take a gamble and there is always eBay if the gamble doesn't pay dividends.
Samsung Gear Fit is its first wearable with potential
Scope for a truly innovative smartwatch:
As people who wear fitness trackers will attest to, they can be useful, but none really stand out and they often end up discarded in a drawer somewhere after the novelty wears off. As mentioned above, the same can probably be said for users who have experimented with some of the first smartwatches to date (I know I have one or two lying around gathering dust). However, there is certainly room for a wearable device that takes the best of both of these device categories, marries them, while extending the depth and capability of their overall functionality - and importantly - their usability. A more advanced health tracker that also offers other smartwatch-like functions that delivers innovation in spades could take off. If it has an Apple logo on it, the iWatch will come with an implicit promise that it will be fully conceived, beautifully designed, and properly executed. This doesn't mean that it can't and won't be improved in subsequent iterations; of course it will. But you can be assured that version one of the iWatch won't hit the market unless it is a truly great product.
Apple's trademark precision engineering as seen in the making of the new Mac Pro
As Tim Cook has often said over the past couple of years, 'Only Apple' is capable of delivering consumer integrated electronic products and services in a way that offer users an experience that is second to none. Only Apple was able to deliver the iPod when it did, the iPhone when it did, and the iPad; Apple more than any other company is responsible for sparking the mobile revolution. Unlike companies like Samsung, which are willing to rush heavily flawed products to market like the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch, Apple does a lot of the product evolution behind the scenes before it is prepared to go to market with something. This was conclusively demonstrated during the original Apple versus Samsung lawsuit, which revealed numerous prototype Apple iPhones developed before the iPhone was launched in 2007.
The original iPhone launched in 2007 revolutionized smartphones crushing established handset makers like Nokia and BlackBerry
The original iPhone and iPad were more like second or third-generation products in that they were highly refined and fundamentally well-thought out from the beginning of their respective product lifecycles. In fact, the iPhone was so advanced that companies like BlackBerry and Microsoft were said to be in shock at the fact that Apple was able to release a device like the iPhone at the time. Blackberry (then RIM), thought that a multitouch smartphone with a 3.5-inch display was at least five years away when the iPhone launched in 2007. The company thought a device with such a large display (for the time) with usable battery life was impossible, but were then startled to see just how small the motherboard was and how much of the device was comprised of a battery component when disassembled. Yet all of these components were available to other manufacturers, but it took Apple's vision to see how they could be engineered into such a remarkable, game changing device.
The original iPad launched in 2010 revolutionized tablet design and continues to dominate the market
This is why there is every reason to expect that the Apple iWatch will be similarly advanced for its time compared to the current competition. Apple's products are often ambitious, setting out to deliver a user experience that no other company is geared up to deliver. Couple this ambition with Apple's renowned product execution and seamless integration within Apple's ecosystem and you start to get a sense for why Apple will succeed where others have failed to date. Only Apple will be able to deliver the first truly successful and useful smartwatch because only Apple has the singular vision, ambition and ability to create truly great products. The iWatch will confirm Apple CEO Tim Cook is the real deal, while it will also reinforce Steve Jobs' view that Apple's "brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it."
Part 2 of the story is now live.
By Sanjiv Sathiah
[Top image credit: Gábor Balogh]