It’s a bit early in the cycle, but it feels like these rumors about an Apple “smartwatch” are snowballing a bit faster this time around than Apple HDTV rumors. Remember, rumors of the latter have come and gone at least since 2006.
The watch chatter feels different, and I think it’s because the press actually has room to talk. Most reasonable Apple HDTV discussions quickly hit a brick wall of “HDTV margins have been terrible for years and the Apple TV already does it all besides apps which you don’t need a full TV for anyway so I give up.” If they don’t, they should.
But a watch is different. There’s mystery, questions, and arguably worthwhile or just plain fun speculation to be had. At the cynical end of the spectrum, Apple fans and the news-hungry press just get to say something besides “Apple HDTV” for a change. But there is more to talk about here.
Like music and other media, the watch industry has been in decline for a while, thanks (not at all ironically) in part to the smartphone. Could Apple once again become the
caped hero and help save another industry in distress? Is the fictitious Apple Watch “inspired” by the third-party watch bands that appeared for the 6th gen iPod nano? Will it have ARM inside, and could it run apps? Can we configure it on-device or will it need an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or PC to setup and change settings? Will it have any kind of wireless tech? Can it play media? Will it include a pedometer and cut off the Fitbit, Nike Fuelband, and every similar device at the knees? Will we be able to get it in (PRODUCT) RED?
Tinkering with the possibility that there’s something to these rumors, wearable tech is a great candidate for the next big thing, and a Next Big Thing that ties into the Previous Big Thing is a revenue double-whammy. Just look at the iPod, iPhone, and even iPad. We needed a computer for at least their initial setup for nearly a decade, so why not a Mac? Today, if Apple’s smartwatch needs something else for setup, why not an iPhone, iPad, or, sure if you really want, even a Mac?
This is partly why I think Google blew its load way, way, way too early by previewing Project Glass. Everyone’s chasing this stuff, and Google wanted to toss its name into the hat and intrigue potential customers before companies with real consumer hardware experience have a chance to get a dominating lead.
Looking back again at the history of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Apple likes to iterate. It starts small and focuses on an attainable idea it can meaningfully tackle within the constraints of time, budget, and resources. If the idea takes off, it expands on the idea but doesn’t lose focus. That’s just how Apple rolls, and it’s partly why so many consumers love its products.
If wearable tech is The Next Big Thing, a watch is a great, focused canvas on which to start small. Unlike HDTVs, the smartwatch industry has not already been carved to pieces by a bunch of dominant competitors who starved each other of margins and innovation long ago. In fact, there aren’t any notable smartwatches to speak of—kinda like another market Apple just walked into six years ago.