The nascent fitness and health technology market has really been heating up lately. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last year, you’ve no doubt been hearing about all kinds of gear emerging from a variety of manufacturers.
Nike introduced the FuelBand in early 2012 for athletes and gym rats who wanted to monitor and track their workouts. Other competitors followed, notably the Fitbit Flex, Jawbone UP, and Basis Watch, each with their strengths and weaknesses when compared to the FuelBand.
Is Apple entering the wearables market?
Over the last year or so, there have been rumblings that Apple is getting into the market with a device that has been dubbed the iWatch. No one has seen it or knows what it will do, if indeed it exists at all. But that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill supported by various online journals and blogs.
Indeed, there have even been articles describing why the iWatch will fail, or why Apple will be successful, while other manufacturers have not. Just in case these journalists haven’t heard, let me repeat: there is no iWatch. At least not yet. So one has to chuckle just a little bit at these articles and the many rumors.
Now, to be fair, there has been a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that Apple is about to enter the wearables market.
Last year, Tim Cook was quoted in an interview as having said that he found the idea of wearables “profoundly interesting.” (He also said that fewer and fewer people, especially Gen-X and Gen-Y types, were wearing watches, so take from that what you will.)
Apple has also been on a hiring spree, and has brought aboard senior executives, marketing folks, and engineers with expertise in fashion, wearable product industrial design, blood-reading and other medical sensor technologies, software vision, and fitness.
Based on all this evidence, this I can say definitively: Apple is up to something.
Let’s play detective
OK, I admit my prognostication skills leave a little bit to be desired. But, for the moment, let’s assume that Apple is developing a wearable device. For want of a better name, we’ll also call it the iWatch. How would we imagine it?
The first thing you consider when you see an Apple hardware product for the first time, when you hold it in your hand, is the industrial design. Apple hardware products pretty much illustrate the height of elegant craftsmanship—some would say they’re works of art.
They start in the mind of Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design, Jonathan Ive.
Here’s Ive speaking about his design aesthetic: “Objects and their manufacture are inseparable. You understand a product if you understand how it’s made. I want to know what things are for, how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they should look like. More and more people do. There is a resurgence of the idea of craft.”
That craft includes not only the outsides of devices, but the insides as well. Apple designs have been praised for not only the exterior look and feel, but also the interior layout. “When you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure,” Ive said.
Some notable designs from Ive include the original iMac in 1999, the iPod and PowerBook G4 in 2001, the iPhone in 2007, the iPad and MacBook Air in 2010, and the cylindrical Mac Pro in 2013. I’ve owned many of these devices and can honestly say that they are a joy to hold and use.
The following collage collects many of the current Apple products. My particular favorites of late are the iPhone 5S, MacBook Air, and iPad Air. They are slim, light, elegant, durable and flawlessly constructed.
How will the iWatch fit in?
So, we can deduce that the iWatch will be slim, light, elegant, durable and flawlessly constructed. Sounds kind of like a high-end watch to me, like a TAG Heuer or Rolex. Hmm…
But why would someone need it ? What would it do? Other clues were announced at this year’s Apple WorldWide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June. Apple introduced HealthKit, a new tool for developers to integrate health and fitness apps, and Health, a new application that gives users an “easy-to-read dashboard of your health and fitness data.”
At WWDC, Apple also rolled out HomeKit, which the company describes as “a new framework for communicating with and controlling connected devices in a user’s home. Apps can enable users to discover devices in their home and configure them, or you [the developer] can create actions to control those devices. Users can group actions together and trigger them using Siri.”
So if I want to monitor my health or control something in my home, a wearable device that is right at hand and easy to command starts to seem more compelling:
“Siri, turn on the living room lights”
“Siri, turn on the TV”
“Siri, turn off the TV, play music”
“Siri, I’ll be home in 10 minutes, turn up the heat”
You get the picture.
Now, admittedly, HealthKit and HomeKit, can and will work with iPhones, iPads, Macs, and possibly even Windows PCs, so they don’t definitely prove that there’s an iWatch on the horizon.
But if I strap on a watch at the beginning of the day, it’s going to be with me pretty much everywhere I go, ready to provide instant service for a variety of possible uses. I don’t always have my iPhone handy, and an iPad or laptop is usually even less readily available.
Apple demonstrated with its Continuity feature how Macs, iPhones and iPads running these OS’es will work more seamlessly together.
Other announced improvements to iCloud, Mail, and Siri (for voice control) suggest that any new iDevice added to the stable would benefit, as well.
In addition, Tim Cook has stated on numerous occasions that Apple would be getting into new product categories this year and next. Other than a wearable device of some sort, it’s harder to imagine other new hardware categories that Apple would enter.
Finally, we have Apple’s history. With almost every new product the company has released in the last 15 years—the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the MacBook Air—Apple has disrupted or reshaped an entire industry. Apple is rarely first to a product category, but when it enters, it usually does so with a bang.
So what can we deduce from all this? Is there a new, beautiful, functional device that will fit seamlessly into Apple’s best-in-class ecosystem?
There’s no definitive proof yet that an iWatch is coming, but if I were a betting man, I’d put money on it.