updated 11:07 pm EDT, Fri August 8, 2014
The iWatch will deliver unmatched levels of sophistication and integration
This is part two of an earlier article assessing why the Apple iWatch will succeed where others have failed. The first part of the article set out the backdrop against which the iWatch will be launched and argues that given the current competition, the iWatch stands an excellent chance of being successful. The current crop of smartwatches haven't managed to get the right mix of functionality, usability and desireability. Even Google's new Android Wear smartwatch platform makes a far from convincing case as to the benefits of owning a smartwatch. Only Apple has the ambition and product execution to make a compelling smartwatch and the signs are there that this is what we will get when it eventually launches before the end of the year.
Apple iWatch-related patents and leaks:
There have been several Apple patent applications and various leaks that make Apple's plans for a wearable device quite clear. While it is true that many Apple patents have surfaced over the years with technologies that don't necessarily make it into shipping products, there are signs that at least some that apply to wearable devices are quite plausible for what Apple may have planned. Many of these revolve around advanced health tracking related capabilities suggesting that an iWatch will incorporate multiple sensors and modules including an accelerometer, GPS, haptic feedback, biometric sensors, and/or wireless receivers, as well as gesture and proximity-based features. The potential for biometric sensors also extends beyond just heart rate monitors; there is scope for Apple to push into sensors that can detect hydration and blood sugar levels among other more advanced health tracking capabilities. These types of features could make the iWatch a health tracking device that will appeal to not only fitness fanatics, but everyday people who have to monitor health indicators for various conditions.
Apple iWatch patent showing gesture and proximity-based features
Apple has already announced the all-new Health app (which already includes Nike Fuel integration) for iOS 8, and the associated HealthKit Framework, highlighting Apple's clear intentions in this area. When you also add reports of Apple meeting with FDA officials, the hiring of physiotherapists and other health-related job postings, it is obvious that Apple is interested in much more than merely helping people to track how many steps that they have walked every day. Perhaps one of the biggest giveaways that what Apple has planned is going to blow away the competition is the fact that close partner Nike has suddenly abandoned wearables. Nike makes well-regarded sports watches and the Nike FuelBand SE, which it will continue to support in the short to medium term, while continuing to develop its health apps and related software. However, its abandonment of further hardware development at this early juncture, coupled with the integration of Nike Fuel into the Apple Health app, is telling.
Nike FuelBand SE will be the shoe maker's last
iOS 8, Health and HealthKit - the foundation for iWatch:
As I previously outlined in our piece on Apple's post-PC paradigm, Apple is focused on making personal computing more personal than ever - there nothing more personal creating a device able to keep close tabs on your physiological wellbeing. If you are prepared to opt in to Apple's ecosystem, the level of cross-platform integration is becoming even more tightly interwoven than ever before to the great benefit of users. This is highlighted by the way in which iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite combine through innovations like Continuity that make everyday workflows (and 'lifeflows') easier than ever. You can expect that the iWatch will be similarly easy to use and will integrate seamlessly with Apple's forthcoming Health app and the HealthKit iOS 8 framework. While these two iOS 8 initiatives can stand alone without an iWatch, they also seem to exist in order to lay the foundation for Apple's iWatch.
The iWatch is expected to be deeply integrated with the sophisticated iOS 8 Health app
Apple has already laid the foundation for developers to leverage such a device (or their own devices) with the creation of its HealthKit framework, which allows health-based apps to share data between them to gives users a more complete picture of their health. This goes well and truly beyond anything that Apple's competitors currently offer. There are no signs that Google's Android L release or any compatible Samsung hardware will be able to match what Apple has lined up for the fall. If Apple obtains FDA approval for the iWatch, it could well be game changing by allowing people to take charge of their health more so than ever before. If Apple is indeed pursuing FDA certification, it will also be tapping into the nascent connected health market - like the wearables market, the connected health market is an industry that is set to boom in the coming years.
Apple has partnered with the Mayo Clinic and Nike on Health and HealthKit
Set against this backdrop, competing apps like Google Fit in its current state won't be in the same ballpark. Users will have much better and more accurate data about multiple health indicators with an Apple iWatch. At the same time, user health data could be provided directly to health practitioners with the opportunity to finely tailor personal health plans. Apple has already announced that is partnering with the Mayo Clinic on HealthKit; in its statement in response to the Apple announcement, the Mayo Clinic said Apple's technology "will revolutionize how the health industry interacts with people." Indeed. The supply of asynchronous data, or even data in real-time, opens up tremendous possibilities for people from all walks of life whether they are professional athletes, recreational athletes or just ordinary everyday people.
What else might Apple have up its sleeve for the iWatch?:
While advanced health tracking capabilities will be key to setting the iWatch apart, I also expect that it will have other qualities that will give it more widespread appeal. The notion of connected smartwatches like the Timex Ironman One GPS+ certainly offer some appeal because they aren't reliant on a smartphone to function like the LG G Watch or the Samsung Gear Live. While it is possible Apple to give an iWatch connected capabilities (perhaps as a model variant - iWatch + Cellular), I fully expect that Apple will give the iWatch authentic offline functionality. This means that it will not wholly reliant on users having their iPhone with them or the iWatch itself requiring a cellular connection. You will be able to use iWatch like an iPod nano with built in storage allowing you to hold music on the iWatch itself for offline playback. A connected model could allow you to download music on the fly or send and receive text messages (as with the Timex Ironman One GPS+).
The LunaTik tapped into the potential of the sixth-gen iPod nano as a basic MP3 player/smartwatch - the iWatch could have its own headphone port and work offline
It is also highly probable that the iWatch will contain a chip like the M7 motion coprocessor used in the iPhone 5s so that it can record and store your data when offline for synchronization when it reestablishes a connection with your iPhone; or it might even connect directly with your Mac or PC. It is conceivable that you may not need an iPhone at all in order for the iWatch to be useful and a genuine value add. However, like everything Apple, it will be designed to work better together with other Apple products. Used in this way, you might end up being able to control an Apple TV with the iWatch (even as a motion controller), or control connected home accessories through Apple's HomeKit framework. The possibilities are endless, but only because Apple has put in place the necessary technology base to leverage it to the full.
The iWatch could incorporate a chip like the M7 motion co-processor
Absolutely critical for the success of the iWatch, or any smartwatch, will be its battery life. Apple knows this and was reported last year to have pushed the iWatch into 2014 as it worked to bring better battery life to its prototype devices. One patent application discovered by Patently Apple reveals that it has been considering multiple options to keep the iWatch charged for extended periods. For example, Apple could extend the battery beyond the main body into the wristband, add solar panels embedded in the display, while also looking to harness kinetic energy to help bolster battery life. A weekly charge would be the goal, but if Apple incorporates inductive wireless charging technology into the device as is on the cards for the Motorola Moto 360, it would make the task of keeping the device fully charged a lot more user friendly. With Beats Audio now officially a division of Apple, there are some interesting opportunities release a set of health-oriented Beats headphones as LG has with its new HeartRate headphones.
Leaked Moto 360 inductive charge dock - the iWatch is expected to take a similar wireless approach to charging
iWatch expected for late 2014:
The latest indicators point to an iWatch launch before the end of 2014, perhaps in limited quantities, with supply ramping up into 2015. I fear, however, that it is quite possible the iWatch may be a US-only launch, with a staggered global rollout to follow. This could likely be due to limited supply as it is not yet thought to have entered production, while its advanced health tracking capabilities could necessitate certification testing in every market where it will be sold. While it will be a source of frustration for Apple fans around the globe, there will no doubt be scores of US customers lining up to scalp them on eBay for large markups as they have in the past when an Apple product launches in the US first. Hopefully, this won't be the case.
I have absolutely no doubt that the iWatch will be a success and the first smartwatch to achieve a substantial user install base. Like the Apple iPod, the iPhone and the iPad before it, it will be the gold standard by which all other competing products are judged.
By Sanjiv Sathiah
[Top image credit: Gábor Balogh]