iWatch concept by Ebsen Oxholm
I recently wrote a piece over on AllThingsApple that laid out the current evidence for why we can expect an iWatch from Apple sometime next year. To summarize, there are two patents which lay out Apple’s vision of “wearable” tech in the form of a flexible video display equipped with a cadre of biometric sensors. There are also numerous not-so-subtle hints from CEO Tim Cook on the record that Apple intends to reinvent the watch and launch a whole new product category. Towards the end, I argued that the iWatch would also reinvent the way we conceive of and practice health care. Here, I’d like to explore the ways in which it will also become the masterpiece of Apple’s design and ecosystem.
Apple will not create an entirely new product category that isn’t groundbreaking. It’s history bears witness with the Macintosh, PowerBook, iPod, iPhone and iPad. When the iWatch is unveiled sometime in the near future, it will quickly become the device from Apple that surpasses the iPhone as the must-have, latest technological innovation from Cupertino. Imagine how lost you feel when you forget or misplace your iPhone: like your life has practically stopped and cannot fully resume until it is found. Now imagine a device like an iPhone that you could wear around your wrist. Imagine it could run iOS with text, video and voice capability, relaying real-time as well as aggregated information about various metrics from your body (heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, etc.) and immediate surroundings. Imagine what it would be like to be able to wear a device like that. It would be a game-changer. Besides not misplacing it nearly as much, another reason for this is the fact that the iWatch will be the best example of “wearable” technology ever designed. And wearable technology…really great wearable technology that works seamlessly with other devices….is the stuff of science fiction; it will be like we’ve taken one step closer to wearing the comm-badge of Star Trek: TNG in the 24th century. Wearable technology is not new; the concept is as old as eye-glasses. Wearable “smart” devices, however, are. Other companies like Google and Samsung are releasing their versions of wearable tech, but neither will come anywhere close to matching the success of the iWatch; Google Glass because text/video-laiden glasses is a fundamentally flawed concept (too much of a distraction on the eyes) and Samsung because it’s watch just suffers from being made by Samsung. As Tim Cook has stated, the wrist is just a “natural” place for some type of wearable device.
One key component of the iWatch will obviously be a flexible type of glass. This past June at the Bloomberg Next Big Thing conference, Dr. Waguih Ishak, vice-president of Corning West Technology Center, claimed that “Willow Glass” would be available for use by electronics manufacturers by the end of 2013 or early 2014, contrary to earlier claims that such flexible glass was at least 3 years away. This announcement means that the key component for the iWatch (the glass) is now being manufactured. The fact sheet from Corning is stunning; flexible glass as thin as copy paper that can withstand high temperatures and keep processing heat to a minimum. Apple’s integration of Willow Glass into a slap-bracelet design will be a winning combination for its customers. I can’t imagine what Sir Jonathan Ive and his design team could do with glass like that. It will be a stunning example of design; as beautiful as it is functional.
The iWatch will almost certainly run some version of iOS, which means that your iPhone, MacBook, iPad, car (with iOS in the Car) and other iOS accessories will all be linked together on your wrist. This will be a huge advance for the ever-growing “Internet of Things” in Apple’s ecosystem. The iPhone and iPad launched the Post-PC era, and world of connected smart-devices capable of communicating with each other is one of the results. Currently, there are a slew of smart accessories in an Apple Store than can link to iOS (lightbulbs, monitors, wristbands, cooking thermometers, toys, card readers, light strips, microphones, guitars…yes, guitars…thermostats, and more). Since it will likely run iOS, the iWatch will become the go-to device that is used to control and manage them. Since you’ll wear it, the iWatch will have the ability to easily include location data (if you so choose) into all of your iOS activities as well as the biometric data from your body. It will be synced using iCloud, and that means that Apple will have a unified and seamless experience from your desk to your lap and from to your pocket to your wrist. The jury is still out as to whether the iWatch will include Siri, but I don’t think Apple will release any mobile or wearable tech that doesn’t include it. Imagine: “Siri, remind me to go bed early if I didn’t sleep well last night” or “Siri, alert me when I reach my target heart rate”.
iWatch concept (source unknown)
Besides revolutionizing the way we think about healthcare, the iWatch will rewrite the way we think about technology, like the iPhone did with phones. Remember what things were like before the iPhone? Yes, there were phones, but most people didn’t love them. The App Store and market didn’t even exist. Now, developers have written apps that do everything from guide the visually impaired and enable them to navigate unassisted to create video chats with multiple people to producing multi-track musical compositions, etc. Apple created not only a new product category, but also entirely new markets around that product, all of them worth billions every year. We probably couldn’t imagine just how revolutionary the iPhone would be before 2007. That’s exactly where we are now with wearables; we simply can’t imagine how much of a culture-changing thing the iWatch will be. Like its other products, the people in Cupertino are building it because they want one themselves, and it’s currently nonexistent. That’s about to change.
How soon can we expect such a device? Tim Cook has hinted at 2014, and many analysts and news reports have made similar claims. Next year seems to be the consensus for the iWatch. Whenever it comes, it will reinvent watches forever and create a new product category/industry; wearable, biometric, cloud-synced technology. It will be Apple’s masterpiece…that you can wear on your wrist.