Apple, Wearable Technology, & iPods

Let’s talk wearables, more formally known as wearable technology. Now, technically almost anything that you wear that has some tech component could be considered wearable technology, from the classic calculator watch, to a t-shirt that displays nearby Wi-Fi signals. However, the wearable tech that is dominant right now is centered squarely on one’s wrist – smart watches. Apple has been rumored for close to a year to be working on a smart watch (usually nicknamed the iWatch) and others have come to the table with their own visions of smart watches. Yet, is this even a good idea? Are smart watches truly something that should be pursued as a useful future technology?

I’m currently very skeptical, because you have to realize an important point in this day and age – almost everyone has a smart phone on them at all times. If you start at that point, the purpose of having an extra digital bauble that you wear on your wrist seems less useful. If you are already using your smart phone all day long, you don’t need extra info on your wrist, as the screen is right in front of you. But what if you have the smart phone in you pocket or purse, wouldn’t a smart watch be a perfect way to keep you updated on your various texts, tweets, and notifications?

I don’t buy this argument.

First, what are these situations were you want to be constantly updated on your digital life, yet can’t simply take your phone out of your pocket? Most of the situations where you can’t take your phone out there is a reason; usually it is socially unacceptable to be using your phone or you simply don’t want to be distracted. Think important meetings at work, dinner dates, or watching a movie at a
theatre.1 Using a smart watch in these situations would almost certainly be just as socially unacceptable or distracting. You might think you could use a smart watch more inconspicuously than a smart phone, but people can just as easily see you glancing down at your watch.2 I think in any situation where a smart phone would be inappropriate, shrinking the screen size down and placing it on your wrist won’t magically change that.

Second, the main situation you might actually want a smart watch, as opposed to a smart phone, would be exercising. Yet, all the current ideas about an Apple smart watch imagine it being tethered to an iPhone. In that scenario, you’d still have to attach the iPhone to your body while you exercised, which would basically defeat the advantage of having the smart watch in the first place. Therefore, any smart watch that needs to be tethered seems to be a flawed idea.

However, what about an Apple smart watch that didn’t require being tethered to an iPhone? Maybe it could play music, keep track of your movements, and push you notifications over a cell network, all independent of having your actual iPhone. But then you basically are talking about a beefed up iPod Nano, one that has a cell data, GPS, and tracking chip inside it and attaches to your wrist. Could that be what Apple is planning?3

It’s been obvious the last few years that the iPod line has been slowly fading.4 Maybe Apple sees an iWatch as a replacement in some ways to the type of functionality iPods offer to people. A smaller, lighter device that is used for more specific tasks, as opposed to the bigger, more expensive iPhone, which is used for more robust tasks. If Apple got rid of the iPod Nano and Shuffle lines completely, but replaced them with a smart watch device, would anyone complain? They could even design it in a way that it wouldn’t necessarily have to be used as a watch – maybe a removable band.

Just imagine a very stunningly designed smart watch/iPod device that includes basic cell data connection. It’s main function still would be to play music, but it would not be limited by storage as you could stream music too. The cell connection would also allow it to send texts and notifications and maybe even phone calls. It would also include the new M7 chip to allow comprehensive motion tracking for exercising. All this and no need to ever tether to your iPhone if you don’t want.

I’m not sure the technology is there to make this feasible, which might be the reason Apple hasn’t introduced any smart watch at this point. In addition, if they did want to incorporate a cell data connection, the carriers would unfortunately need to be involved. Yet, I think a stand-alone smart watch concept that basically would replace the iPod is where Apple should go. It’s the only take on the smart watch idea that makes sense to me right now. We shall see what the future brings.

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1. Even in these situations, many people seem to still be using their smart phones.

2. Just ask George H.W. Bush back in his infamous 1992 debate.

3. I seem to recall John Gruber touching on this idea a number of months ago in an episode of The Talk Show.

4. In Apple’s last quarterly results report, iPod sales were down to only 2% of Apple’s total revenue.