Wearable Technology 2.0

With the long awaited unveiling of the Apple Watch, we’re now finally witnessing the second coming of wearable tech.

Tech Talk – Zeid Nasser

As you would expect from such an exacting and detail-obsessed company, it was a long time before Apple felt it was ready to finally reveal its smartwatch to the world. But the Cupertino-based giant is convinced the device’s lengthy gestation was needed to overcome all the main obstacles that have been preventing the wearable tech segment from really taking off.

Last year, at the time of Samsung’s Galaxy Gear launch, I wrote that battery life will be the single most important factor for the success of smart watches. Other factors have emerged since, including limited stand-alone functionality as an obstacle and, most obviously, that smart watches need to be fashionable items that appeal to a broad range of consumers. This point in particular has been addressed, as Apple Watch is available with six different wristbands in various styles and colors of leather and metal. Three lines have been announced; regular, ‘sport,’ and ‘edition’; plus it comes in two sizes. It will retail from $350 when it hits stores early next year. As for battery life, Apple didn’t go into too much detail at its prelaunch event, but promised it would be satisfactory.

So it seems Apple has watched the first wave of smart watches closely and has been working on solving these issues that have long dogged wearable tech.

One of the Apple Watch’s most interesting features is its Digital Crown, which runs against the trend for touchscreen-only devices. Using the rotary dial, you can spin it to zoom in and out of content displayed on screen, or to work your way through various buttons on menus. You tap it to return to the home screen. There’s also a button under the dial to bring up the database of contacts.

Apple was apparently considering removing the watch’s rotary dial control entirely, but its voice-command technology, Siri, couldn’t reliably understand and execute all spoken commands. So here we have an input replacement technology for the future that harks back to the past.

Regarding functionality with iPhones, it’s clear Apple wants the devices to work together. However, the main aim is to take convenience to a whole new level. Certain types of apps could work better on a watch including time-keeping, scheduling, health trackers, and music players. More apps could find their ideal home on watches, such as weather apps, chatting, and messaging.

But while many of us can see the benefit of having a multifunction smart device strapped to our wrist, as opposed to having it tucked away in our pocket, skepticism over the value of wearable tech remains. Before Apple revealed its watch to the world, the company’s cofounder, Steve Wozniak, slammed wearables as showy smartphone accessories. This was probably due to the unconvincing products he had used up until then. But he might change his mind if the value of his shares in Apple shoots up if the Apple Watch proves to be a hit.

Interest in other major releases in wearable technology, such as Google Glass, seems to have cooled. Google hasn’t yet announced sales figures for its Glass since it went on sale this summer for around $1,500, but it seems even Google still thinks the market isn’t mature enough for this type of product to take-off and sell in substantial quantities. There are no signs that Apple or Samsung are looking into smart glasses either. But smart watches are different. It’s generally agreed that a smart device on your wrist is the next realistic product to be widely adopted by consumers in personal technology.

The best products just work, that’s how they become category defining and sell in big numbers. That’s what the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad have all done. If the Apple Watch works in the same way, it will at least be as successful as previous Apple products, even without the dropped ‘i’ prefix.

If the upheaval Apple caused in the mobile phone, music, and PC industries is to be repeated, then watch makers ranging from Rolex to Swatch should be seriously worried. Perhaps this is another opportunity for Google’s Android to round-up an alliance of the anti-Apple giants of the watch industry?