LAS VEGAS, CES 2012 – When Steve Jobs unveiled the sixth generation iPod nano in September of 2010, he coyly said, “You can even wear it as a watch!” Overnight, the “iWatch” was coined and a whole new industry was born, as accessory makers flocked to deliver iPod nano watchbands.
Over the last year, Apple’s added a variety of new graphical watchfaces to the iPod nano, further emphasizing the nano’s suitability as a watch replacement. But that’s not nearly enough. The iPod nano’s inherent iWatchiness is a quality that Apple is still seriously under-exploiting.
Want to know how good a real iWatch could be? Look no further than Sony’s SmartWatch, on display this week at CES.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Sony’s SmartWatch isn’t really a good product. It’s got great engineering and beautiful design, but it doesn’t have any autonomous functionality of its own. All it really is is a Bluetooth wrist control for your Sony Xperia or other Android smartphone: it has no internal memory of even innate functionality of its own. A dumb terminal, in other words.
That said, when paired with an Android smartphone, the Smart Watch is everything a true iWatch should be. Got your phone in your pocket and want to change the track? Just hit a button on your wrist. Can’t find your smartphone? Use your SmartWatch to set the phone ringer on until you locate. Receive a text message and it pops up on your wrist. Need to check a stock and you can do it with a couple of flicks. And so on. It’s compelling stuff.
The problem with the iPod nano right now is that it’s just too much of its own device, with no interconnectivity with any other part of Apple’s ecosystem. What’s so frustrating about that is if Apple just rolled Bluetooth into the next-gen iPod nano, it could be the best of both worlds for everyone: it could function as an ultraportable, affordable MP3 player for students, joggers and athletes, but also do double duty as a wrist-side interface for your iPhone when you throw the latter in your pocket.
Sony’s SmartWatch might not be a showstopper. In fact, like many of Sony’s products, it’s woefully under-realized. But what Sony’s flubbed, Apple’s already positioned to slam dunk. You can’t sell people MP3 players forever in an age when everyone’s phone plays music, and smartphones are here to stay. But watches? They never go out of style. Apple’s almost there, all they need to do is graft on some Bluetooth.
It’s far past time for Apple to finish what they started and revolutionize the wristwatch. Let’s hope 2012’s the year they do so.