In September of 2010, I wrote a column in this space deflating the idea that Apple would ever make and sell a wristwatch.
I still think my reasoning was sound. But I didn’t know then what I know now. Specifically, two Apple technologies have become central to Apple’s long-term strategy. These two products — Siri and iCloud — change everything.
And because of this new information, plus a few new things we’ve learned about Apple in the past year, I’m completely reversing my opinion. I now believe the current rumors that Apple is getting into the wristwatch business.
I even think we can accurately imagine what Apple is likely to do in the wristwatch department.
In my old post, I wrote that Apple is unique in the industry in that it has three criteria for entering an entirely new market:
1. There are glaring problems or inadequacies among all major players in the market that can be solved by Apple’s core competency of elegant design.
2. The new market area enables Apple to control a new platform that supports an ecosystem of content, such as media or apps.
3. Both the potential market and the marketplace for content must be huge, mainstream and central to how most people live.
I then went on to say that the iWatch idea fails all three criteria: 1) existing watches can be awesome and elegant; 2) wristwatch-specific apps would be too small a market for Apple to bother with; and 3) an iWatch could never find the massive penetration of the iPhone, or even the iPad, given that most people consider wristwatches a fashion accessor, which they tend not to buy from computer companies.
All this makes sense — if you think of an iWatch as a wristwatch and a stand-alone device. But that’s not what the iWatch will be.
What the Rumors Say
The New York Times’ Nick Bilton blogged this week that Apple is considering a wide range of wearable-computing ideas, including a “curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist; people could communicate with the device using Siri.”
Yes, this is just a rumor. But I believe they will build exactly this. Here’s why.
The iWatch Will Be a Siri-Based Remote-Control for iCloud
A stand-alone Apple wristwatch makes no sense. But an elegant remote control, lashed to the wrist, that enables Siri commands to bring things down from the cloud makes all the sense in the world.
Apple is already aggressively moving toward an iCloud-centric Appleverse where whatever iDevices you have connect and share with each other via iCloud. Take a picture on your iPhone, and it shows up on your iPad. Watch half a movie on the iPad, then zap it over to the TV via Apple TV.
Your music is in the cloud. Your movies are in the cloud. Your documents are in the cloud.
Apple is also aggressively promoting Siri as the friendliest of friendly user interfaces. Siri is clearly here to stay as the central interface for current and future iPhones. Rumors suggest a coming tsunami of Siri-based TVs, iPads, MacBooks and iMacs.
Steve Jobs’ eponymous bio suggested that Apple had made some kind of breakthrough in the improvement of the TV experience. Many have suggested Siri control is that breakthrough, and I think that makes sense. However: How do you talk to a TV that itself is blasting speech, and closer to the microphone than you are?
The answer is: You don’t. You talk to a device near to you.
I think it makes sense that future Apple TV or iTV (the rumored integrated TV from Apple) will come with a Siri-capable remote control unit. Or, you can use your iPhone. Or your iPad. Or your iWatch.
And why control just the TV? Why not also remote-control your iMac in the same way? Or your iPad? Or your iPhone?
As iCloud becomes central, we will come to view ourselves as being “iCloud users,” who have a wide range of choices about which devices we use iCloud with. They all talk to iCloud. Actually, we talk to iCloud. Siri is the voice of iCloud. And it doesn’t really matter which device we speak to Siri through: iMac, MacBook, iPad, iPhone or iWatch.
Over time, of course, Siri will gain a lot more agency, meaning that we’ll be able to request that Siri actually do more things — buy plane tickets, buy flowers and have them delivered, make sure the car is locked.
Theoretically, this kind of voice-command agency doesn’t even require an Apple gadget at all. It could all take place from any telephone.
I don’t know if Apple will ever enable phone-based Siri interaction. But such action could easily take place through a wristwatch, operating through another Apple device, such as an iPhone.
At minimum, a Siri-base iWatch would need to be little more than a Bluetooth headset with a loudish speaker shaped like a watch. But I think it will be much more than that.
Apple Has Fallen In Love with Wristwatches and Curved Glass
In the past year or so, Apple has gone through two big experiences that seem to have enamored Steve Jobs and the Apple team of both wristwatches and curved glass.
When Jobs announced the newest nano, he suggested that it could be used as a wristwatch. Weeks later, the world was flooded with third-party watchbands that turned nanos into watches. (I wear one myself.)
Apple doesn’t even try to hide its approval of this trend – in fact, the company actively supports it. Apple sells wristbands in its stores, and even rolled out an appealing line of watch faces to be used in nano wristwatches.
There’s just one problem. The nano wristwatches have sharp square edges that make the watch a bit clunky and bulky looking. The whole watch part of the combined nano-and-band setup sticks out too far from the wrist, and has four sharp edges. And that’s why I think Apple is probably going to slim it down and curve the edges.
At the very least, Apple will optimize a nano for wearing on the wrist. Why wouldn’t they? And curved glass is the most elegant and Apple-like way to do that.
According to Jobs’ presentation before the Cupertino City Council while introducing a new global headquarters building, he pointed out that the new “spaceship” campus building has no flat glass. It turns out that Apple intends to actually build a factory to manufacture curved glass for the building.
Apple started work this week on a new “prototype concept” Apple Store in Palo Alto, California. Its most conspicuous design feature will be a curved-glass ceiling and roof.
A normal company would put flat glass on their buildings. It would be far less expensive. And you can make roughly curved wall and ceiling shapes with flat glass. But Apple seems to have become seriously focused on the curved-glass concept as a signature design element.
There are also reports coming out of Taiwan that Apple has purchased equipment necessary for the manufacture of curved-glass products.
As an owner of the 27-inch iMac, I can tell you that the current size is close to a maximum size before using the edges of the screen become uncomfortable to look. The angle of my gaze at the center of the screen is perpendicular to the screen. But the farther out I look toward either edge of the screen, the greater the angle. If the screens get any bigger, it’s going to be uncomfortable to look at. (First-world problem, I know.) Still, Apple wants to keep making screens bigger, and users want bigger screens.
One solution for larger screens is a display that curves around, similar to a concept mocked up (not by Apple) called the iView.
I think we’re going to be seeing a lot of curved-glass devices emerging, not just from Apple but from other companies as well.
Call me fickle for reversing my prediction. Call me gullible for believing the iWatch rumors. But I believe a curved-glass, Siri-controlled, iCloud-centric wristwatch is exactly the kind of thing Apple can, should and will pursue in the next two years.
Image courtesy of Yrving Torrealba.