Apple Watchers See An iWatch Ticking

by , Feb 11, 2013, 7:54 AM
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“They’re here again,” write the jaded technology writers. No, they’re not talking about another zombie offering from Hollywood. Rather, it’s informed speculation in the mainstream press about Apple developing a wrist device that inevitably evokes the image of Dick Tracy, the cartoon cop who sported a “2-way wrist radio” back in the day when city editors wore green celluloid eyeshades and computers filled a room.

“Rumors of Apple building a watch-like device have existed since time immemorial -- they've built up the same near-mythical status that the iPhone did pre-2007, or a TV set does today,” writes Engadget’s Jon Fingas. “The New York Times, however, claims that the watch concept exists as more than just some fan art.”

Indeed, “Apple is experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass,” the Times’ Nick Bilton tells us in the “Bits” blog yesterday and in print this morning. “Such a watch would operate on Apple’s iOS platform, two people said, and stand apart from competitors based on the company’s understanding of how such glass can curve around the human body.”  

Bilton’s inside sources are, of course, not supposed to be talking to him and Apple refused comment, as usual, but that’s all the better for speculating about what might be. Would Siri be included? Will it have mapping software? (That works?) Texting? Heart rate monitoring? 

“Could Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, be wearing one right now, whispering sweet nothings to his wrist?,” Bilton asks playfully before talking about the viability of a new type of glass from Corning called Willow that can, indeed, wrap around the likes of a wrist.

“Like every other Apple rumor that has ever surfaced and will continue to surface, time without end, this one should be taken with a little sprinkling of salt (maybe a soupcon of Green-e certified Himalayan salt, because this is Apple that we’re talking about),” cautions TechCrunch’s Catherine Shu.

Nonetheless, The Wall Street Journal’s Jessica E. Lessin has a source confirming that Apple’s Taiwanese partner, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (aka, Foxconn), “has been working on a spate of technologies that could be used in wearable devices” (but not just for Apple). 

Lessin also points out that Microsoft “unveiled a smart watch concept at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- based on a technology called SPOT, for "smart personal objects technology" -- that was sold for a few years by several watch makers without much success.” 

And then there’s the “activity-monitoring” devices offered by manufacturers such as Nike, Jawbone, Fitbit and Garmin. “Others, like startup Pebble Technology Corp., are developing watches that connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth and display messages and other information users want to be alerted to on the go,” Lessin reports.

“You never know what Apple's working on, and there've been rumors about everything under the sun, from TV sets to watches to flying cars,” Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart tells the San Jose Mercury News’ Patrick May, following up on the reports. “I've tested a bunch of watches that talk to my phone, and most tend to be clunky and somewhat limited in their functions.”

But Greengart allows that Apple has a pretty good history of moving innovative concepts from drawing board to production line.

Then again, observes SmartPlanet’s David Worthington, “a good rule of thumb is that most Apple rumors are wrong.” He also wonders “what use it would be,” other than as an accessory. “It’s not that difficult to pick my iPhone up out of my pocket,” Worthington writes.

Mashable, meanwhile, has put together a gallery of speculative images from across the Internet of what an iWatch might look like. We’ll say this: None is as ungainly as a practical device, or as an accessory, as the Garmin Foretrex 201 hands-free GPS. 

In another New York Times piece this morning, Brian X. Chen writes that the company “for the first time in years, is hearing footsteps.” They belong to Samsung, the Korean-based manufacturer of the Galaxy S III smartphone, as well as an array of consumer products from vacuum cleaners to flat-screen TVs. 

But rather than try to create and dominate new markets, as Apple has, it studies what people are buying and then endeavors to give it to them better than others do by utilizing an extensive research network that employs 60,000 people in 34 research centers from Russia to India to Silicon Valley.

“We go through all avenues to make sure we read the trends correctly,” EVP Donghoon Chang, who leads the company’s design efforts, tells Chen. So, if Apple does indeed come out with an iOS wrist device, I guess we’ll know if it’s going to be more successful than Microsoft’s SPOT efforts if Samsung decides to compete and -- gasp! -- may even do it “cooler.”

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