To be honest, I won’t be surprised if Apple does not announce an iWatch today. The concept of an iWatch has been largely driven by competitors picking up rumors, starting their own development programs to create wearable wrist-based computers, and the media picking up on those devices, comparing them to each other only to state the obvious:
The market for such devices has not been created yet.
Sure, there are various small devices available today in the wearable computing segment. These can be accounted to the gadgets category: they are fun products for enthusiasts, which could be generously described as a geek market. It’s by far not ready for mass consumption. Apple has proven of course that it can create and establish entire market sections that didn’t exist before, starting with the original Macintosh, the iPhone and the iPad. With the iPod they didn’t create a market, but they took a very tiny segment and implemented it in a way that found immediate traction with consumers.
In fact, the iPod introduction was Apple’s first serious foray (earlier gaming and TV devices not accounted) into a lifestlye electronics mass consumer market, beyond regular pro, desktop and laptop computing.
And this is the mistake people make when they talk about Apple today. They still see the computer company that also makes music players, tablets and phones. This is clearly not Apple’s perspective. I believe Apple’s product strategy spans much wider, it doesn’t stem from a thought model of “people buying electronic devices”. It begins with the thought of how design improves people’s lives. And with design they don’t mean just how great it looks, they mean how great it works.
Apple may make a big step into wearable computing today. In doing so, they will not introduce yet another smartwatch, just like they wouldn’t introduce yet another Internet ready TV. Apple doesn’t work this way. They are looking at the market, sure, when they are expanding on product categories. But when they are thinking about new products, they think people first. They don’t see consumers, they see people and how they live and work. They look at their passions, at what excites them and what seriously improves their lives.
There is this ongoing mocking of Silicon Valley start-ups, claiming that they all want to improve people’s lives. This running gag doesn’t come out of nowhere. It basically started when Apple introduced this mantra and everyone began to follow it. Isn’t that what we all want, an improved life? The wave of start-ups with seemingly fresh ideas failing to achieve what they believe in gives you an idea of how hard it is today to really innovate.
Of course, achieving innovation as a company even as big as Apple, with many stakeholder’s interests virtually at stake, this isn’t a trivial task either. Everyone seems to be worried if Apple is still innovative under Tim Cook. That’s the wrong kind of question. Apple was always innovative, it was its management in the past that changed and either stiffled or promoted Apple’s innovation spirit. Apple has not reached it’s peak in innovation, its very nature prevents any hill or peak. Expansion doesn’t mean just growth for Apple, it means steady internal improvement.
As some people have pointed out, the fashion factor does play an important role, but I think that factor is overhyped. If Apple did its homework, they are aware that there is no mass market for watches anymore. It may be that the new device (or one of them) will be a wrist-based wearable device, which would work pretty much like a watch and maybe even shows the time. But thinking that wearable = fashion is a narrow-sighted simplification.
The main hurdle with the upcoming wearable computing market won’t be the question if it’s fashionable. Partnerships with designers and brands will help. How I look wearing something is undeniably important. But there is another, even more important layer added to wearable computing, and that is how well it fits in our life. What does it add we find indispensable after we use it?
A watch is dispensable. A phone on your wrist, or even a “smart iPod like device” on your wrist that counts your steps, is equally dispensable.
A device that integrates with a home device, with your iCloud account, joining data to enable platforms such as a unified, life long health-tracking system that ties in with insurances and the medical system—this comes closer to a future ecosystem that at some point could become indispensable. And that’s just one side of it.
The devices Apple will introduce today, whatever they may be, a new TV experience or a foray into wearable computing—they will define new categories in themselves. They will take what we thought something is (like an iWatch) and turn it into something entirely new. Don’t underestimate Apple’s strength when it comes to endure extremely long research and development processes, to come out with something that is really different.
(Image: Apple website screenshot)