Apple’s iWatch has been rumoured for some time now and the clock is ticking towards the expected reveal. Reports from two reliable US outlets have seemingly uncovered more detail on the device, with production expected to start in July.
This could well lead to an autumn reveal from Apple CEO Tim Cook and the device hitting the shelves a few weeks later. Usually a new Apple product is greeted with great fervour and queues around the block, but will the iWatch do the same?
It’s hard to tell. Many have questioned if there is really a true need for a smartwatch, saying the devices appear to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Yet many will remember the same scepticism the iPad faced, and look how that turned out.
Biding its time
Ian Fogg, director Mobile and Telecoms at IHS, told V3 Apple is a very pragmatic company and so will have been watching the wearables market unfold for some time before making its move, similar to its strategy with the iPhone, iPad and iPod.
“No-one has quite worked out the best features for a device on the wrist. There is a lot of experimentation, but no-one has really nailed it yet. This is the kind of market Apple likes,” he said.
“There is a parallel to the MP3 market. Back in 2001 there were lots of devices out there but they were often quite big or clunky to use, and so Apple released a smaller device that was easier to use and that proved very compelling.”
Fogg added that it could be Apple's existing success in the phone market that really serves as the catalyst for any success around an iWatch device.
“It’s a fascinating market at the moment and what’s striking is that all these devices are connecting to the phone. The phone is becoming the brain for all the other devices people carry around,” he said.
“The fact Apple has a very successful smartphone with software and an ecosystem that supports everything else gives it a tremendous foundation to enable third-party devices to be supported or do something itself.”
Making the iPhone and iOS software the hub around which other products operate is something the launch of HomeKit and HealthKit also feed into, by allowing third-party hardware vendors to sync their kit to these in-built apps on iOS.
This means those buying devices such as the Jawbone or Fitbit will benefit from remaining with, or buying, iPhone or iPad devices, helping Apple keep its ecosystem of users, apps and accessories buoyant.
But Apple is not known for enjoying the company of others, and launching its own iWatch, which features the same types of fitness and health capabilities already in the market, but given the Apple stamp, would make sense.
Indeed, The Wall Street Journal claims the iWatch will have around 10 sensors to track fitness data and no doubt this would sync into HealthKit nicely, and help Apple fans realign their gadgets under the Apple brand.
This could be one of the reasons Nike has already abandoned its FuelBand work, as it acknowledged that working on its apps for iOS is a more fruitful strategy than building hardware to compete against Apple.
Of course all this will mean nothing if people don't actually see a benefit in the device and hand over their cash for another shiny gizmo. So far it's fair to say the wearables market hasn't really taken off, despite numerous devices being unveiled.
Last year Gartner analyst Annette Zimmerman issued a tough assessment of the wearables market, claiming that the hype was not matched by the products.
"Samsung and other well-known vendors have recently entered the smartwatch space, yet the products we have seen so far have been rather uninspiring in terms of design, available apps and features," she said.
However, if any company can turn a market on its head it's Apple, as already noted from its past hardware reveals. Apple appears bullish too, with The Wall Street Journal report citing plans to ship 10-15 million iWatches in 2014 and 50 million within 12 months of release.
Alarm bells for businesses
So if people do buy the iWatch, what does this mean for businesses? Most seem to think not much. Forrester analyst Julie Ask wrote in a blog in April that most firms are twiddling their thumbs on wearable tech.
“Very few executives we have surveyed about wearables have a strategy or are planning a strategy for their content and services for wearable devices,” she wrote
But, according to Ask, this needs rethinking. She pointed to the ‘glanceable’ nature of smartwatches as something that could be a real boon to end users, and for a major rethink in how firms measure app interaction.
“The majority of interactions with your customers (for many of you) will be glanceable alerts. And, yeah, you are going to have to stop measuring the performance of your mobile apps based on opens and time spent,” she said.
“I don't necessarily need to make a purchase on this device, but I need to know if the sale is on. I need to know if the gate for my flight has changed. Apps will soon be too heavy and finding/opening apps will involve too much friction to receive simple bits of information.”
Again, the strength of Apple's ecosystem, which will allow developers to ensure apps work between the iPhone and potentially the iWatch, could force businesses to go back to the drawing board to work out how best to push information to users.
For now, only time will tell if Apple does release the iWatch and how it succeeds, but don't be surprised if in a few months you notice a few more short-sleeved shirts being worn, as proud iWatch owners flash their new gear.
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