Monday, November 25, 2013

iWatch is to Exercise Bands as iPod was to MP3 Players

There are many reasons to miss Steve Jobs, one of them being that he seemed to be able to cross all the boundaries of the groups at Apple to ensure the Apple HI team was empowered to achieve his ongoing vision of a unified, seamless, and sometimes pleasantly-surprising user experience. Jony Ive's new iOS7 may have expunged the skeumorphisms of his predecessor, but it's got a few more iterations to go before it unifies a look that isn't either jarring or derivative - like the "lickable" icons of the original OS X.

Even more though, is that despite Phil Schiller's practiced spontaneous line "Can't innovate any more, my a--," Apple actually doesn't seem to be able to innovate anymore, or at least hasn't shown it since Steve passed. The Mac Pro is a revision for sure, but it's actually very much like a resurrected G4 cube - central chimney, cool enclosure, choice design over utility for the pro market.

The two awaited game-changers that Apple is expected to unleash are the Apple Watch and the Apple TV. Steve alluded to the TV watching experience and how he had "nailed it" but leaving us poor readers with only a glimpse into the idea that the interface was key to a better tv surfing.  I'm willing to believe that a gesture-based TV interface will far surpass the frustrating query-and-answer most of us face with our infernal so-called universal remotes. Apple's recent announcement of the acquisition of PrimeSense may be another step along this path, accepting that a gesture-based user interaction might need a partner technology. Still like the iPod and its sister app, the iTunes store, an Apple TV device needs content to be as compelling as the interface to be the one-hdmi connected piece of hardware that Steve probably envisioned. I previously posted that the Apple TV could not be successful until it brought the mainstream cable through it and hence needed an f-connector, but those days are gone. The Jobsian-level Apple TV experience will be simply flicking through snippets of content as easily as we do the set-top boxes, but this time with all digital-streamed content, whether it is from NetFlix or any broadcast network. Negotiating this connectivity will have been far harder than convincing the music labels to put music on the iTunes store, a move they probably took in the glow of the Reality Distortion Field, when they should have used it as a bellwether to develop their own open online stores. As such, it may take a long time given the turmoil of the state of online networks and broadcast to bring the unified gesture-based Apple TV to market. In the mean time it will be far easier for Apple to produce an iWatch.

Just like Apple was not the first to market a mini-hd mp3 player, Apple was just watching when Pebble was Kickstarted. Now even Samsung has legitimized the market with their Note 3 SmartWatch. So when Apple finally emerges from the laboratory with the iWatch it will be curved, and a thing of beauty. And it will work really, really well with iPhone 5's, but not much else.  Don't expect a new App Store for iWatch though - apps will use notifications as they continue to be a growing part of iOS and a key part of the iWatch, as will Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) (vs. the competitive technology to Near Field Communication (NFC) with its awesome range of Blackberry and Microsoft handsets).

Unlike how the iPod took a major chunk out of the sales of MP3 devices like the Diamond Rio and Creative NOMAD, the iWatch won't wipe out the digital watch market. What it will take its toll on, are the exercise wristbands that occupy a large section of the wall at your local Apple store. Their features are not so unique as to justify their existence, except as the status symbol that tells people you want to be seen as someone who exercises enough to care about measuring it. Since an iWatch will  have the same motion sensing accelerometers as most other Apple devices, that capability will migrate.

And once that all happens, maybe this old guy can see a return to a practice long missed - seeing someone check their watch to see what time it is, rather than pull their phone out of the pocket. Just saying...