Will Apple Save the Wristwatch?

Will Apple Save the Wristwatch?

The wristwatch has fallen out of fashion. Sure, a few geezers still wear watches out of habit. Hipsters wear them ironically. Geeks wear them defiantly. And the fashionable wear them decoratively.

But these people are the minority. Bare wrists are the norm now.

People think the wristwatch is dead because our phones tell time, so they’re redundant. But that’s not why.

The reason most reject wristwatches is the same reason most rejected tablets until Apple shipped the iPad in 2010: The available selection is too bloated, clunky, expensive and poorly suited to how people really live and work.

In other words, the right kind of watch would get everyone wearing them again.

Apple mainstreamed tablets by re-imagining what a tablet is, by making it touch and with app and at low cost with a compelling user interface.

Will they do the same for the wristwatch? I think they will. 

When the late Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs announced the new nano in Fall, 2010, he suggested that it was so small it could be worn as a wristwatch. Wristbands supporting the nano bloomed, and Apple even carries them in Apple stores.

In Fall, 2011, Apple announced new clock faces for the nano.

At this year’s fall announcement, which happens this week, I think Apple may announce a totally new nano, one optimized for use as a wristwatch.

This wristwatchification of the nano would take the following forms (in order of awesomeness):

1. Bluetooth 4.0

The latest spec for Bluetooth would give a wristwatch nano awesome capabilities. For starters, it would enable the watch to always keep in touch with a nearby iPhone, enabling it to turn on with new information, such as incoming caller ID, SMS messages, and social networking status updates.

It would enable the watch to transmit Siri conversations via the phone or even enable walkie-talkie-like push-to-talk calls via the iPhone — you know, like like Dick Tracy.

Bluetooth would let the watch play music over nearby speakers.

Imagine what you could do with an iCloud-connected wristwatch!

And finally, Bluetooth 4.0 could enable an entire ecosystem of fitness monitoring apps, such as heart-rate monitors.

2. New shape

In the Spring of last year, a bubble of semi-certainty arose that Apple was working on a curved-glass product to be unveiled sometime in 2012. The New York TimesNick Bilton wrote that his sources informed him that “One idea being discussed is a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist; people could communicate with the device using Siri, the company’s artificial intelligence software.”

Digitimes reported similar efforts on the manufacturing side, and even reported that Apple had purchased hundreds of special glass-cutting machines for that purpose.

But even if curved glass doesn’t pan out, making the nano thinner, smoother and smaller would vastly improve its usage as a wristwatch.

3. Apps

At last year’s Fall announcement, Apple unveiled a nano-specific apps, including the Nike Fitness app. It seems likely that Apple could introduce new, wristwatch-like apps this year, including a stopwatch, a new calculator or a world clock that sets itself according to local time. Imagine an iMessage app, or an app that alerts you about appointments on your phone’s Calendar.

But will the nano really be transformed into a better wristwatch? I think there’s circumstantial evidence that it might:

  • Chatter last year about curved glass (see above).
  • The blog 9to5 Mac reported recently that it has “received information” that this year’s new nano has a new codename. If true, that would suggest that the new nano is fundamentally different from the old one.
  • Apple is the most aggressive company with Bluetooth 4.0, and was to the best of my knowledge the first-ever company to introduce the new spec in a phone, a tablet and a laptop. Adding Bluetooth 4.0 to the nano would be perfectly consistent with Apple’s track record of shipping every hardware product with the technology since last year.
  • And finally, Apple is a company that pursues good ideas. Once Apple starts going down a road, you can expect it to continue down that road by optimizing and perfecting whatever the direction is. The past two Fall announcements involved bold strides in the direction of transforming the nano into a bona fide wristwatch. This week’s event should see another big step.

Apple specializes in taking obscure but great ideas and making them mainstream. They mainstreamed digital mobile music. They mainstreamed mobile phone app stores. They mainstreamed touch tablets.

And I think they’re going to mainstream wireless, app-based wristwatches.

If I’m right, it means the wristwatch is coming back in style.

Will you wear one?

(Concept illustration courtesy of ADR Studio)

Related
  • Craig Young

    Finally!!!!

    I’ve been saying the same thing Mike, and I began to wonder if it was just me.

    Personally, I’m looking forward to the ‘watch’ more than the phone, primarily because it’ll be a brand new capability within the Apple ecosystem and pretty much complete’s the integration of existing products.

  • Craig Young

    Oh – to answer your question, yes I would get one immediately.

    I held off on the current nano because it had no connectivity.

    If there’s no new watch, I’m getting the Italian made i’m watch.

  • alicoredm

    Apple should just buy the pebble. http://www.getpebble.com. Looks real good.

  • Whodakat

    Yes, I would wear one.

  • Hal Summers

    If it had GPS I’d buy one in a heartbeat. It’d make it great for hiking and running. Without GPS, frankly, I’d have NO use for it whatsoever.

  • lambaline

    I would totally buy one!

  • Rob Gilgan

    No.

  • patstar5

    I think apple will disappoint. Next iPhone will just be minor screen bump in size. Have a design similar to 4s that is 2 1/2 years old. Nothing major will come out. I doubt they will make a nano watch but maybe improve a nano a bit to be more as a watch. Apple has stopped innovating. They use to be the top devices that blew away the competition. The iPad still does that but with window’s 8 apple better put touchscreens on macs or else it’s game over. Now apple could surprise us and all the iPhone 5 leaks could be fake. Isn’t it strange we Havn’t seen any iPod touch or iPod nano leaks? Only Iphone 5. Kind of fishy… Maybe they will surprise but it looks like that apple has gone and all they care about is money. R.I.P Steve Jobs

  • Bob Smogango

    I wonder how much more they would need to do to make it a Cell Phone. Dick Tracy might be here a little sooner than later?

  • trooperoutlaw

    I would pre-order it day of event if it looks anything like the above and had the connectivity.

  • The_Truth_Hurts

    Who uses a wristwatch anymore……? Most people I know use their phones nowadays. But of course Apple can make a watch and it will be a hit because all the fanbois/girls will see it as the next “must have” device.

  • Ian Bradley

    What are you talking about? “Will Apple save the wristwatch?” “The wristwatch has fallen out of fashion” Eh? You’re not serious are you? Everyone I know still wears a watch. I’ve been wearing the same watch for 18 bloody years. And they are in no way redundant. Suunto are still bringing out ground-breaking watches for sports – their latest and greatest release, the Ambit, has a 3D Compass, Barometric altitude, Barometer Temperature, HAS A GPS among other features (inc. an optional heart rate monitor). I could sell one of these things with my eyes closed, they are in such high demand.
    You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

  • seaaalex

    “The available selection is too bloated, clunky, expensive and poorly suited to how people really live and work.”

    Yeah ok Mike, you run with that ….

    The selection is too bloated ? There are watches that cover every price point , style and function …. But we should all just have an iWatch ?

  • James_Ala1

    There is nothing “wrong” with the wristwatch, the problem lies in the watch companies; they are far too conservative. Casio and other Japanese companies make really cool watches for the home market. They have watches based on Manga strips and other really cool stuff. But they don’t sell them here because they think we won’t like them. Swiss watch companies are even more risk adverse.

    Sooner or later this will all shake out. The Watch business had a major shake out when quartz watches made their appearance, the new “connected” watches like the iPhone Nano will become the new language of wrist watches. Watch companies will either adapt or perish.

  • Steffen Jobbs

    I wear a Casio G-Shock Waveceptor and if Apple had something that cost even twice that price with those functions, I’d buy it, but it isn’t going to happen, so there’s no point in hoping. I’ve already got a couple of small BT receivers for headphones that I could use if the Nano came with BT. I’d bought a BT dongle for my iPod and use it occasionally.

    Seeing how Apple has neglected the Mac Pro I can tell which direction Apple is going in and it’s only going to be making products that sell in huge quantities because that’s where the money is. Business-wise, it makes sense, though and that’s what helps make Apple successful. Even good products that no one buys is a waste of time and space.

  • Christian McIntire

    Mike,

    You’re ill-informed as usual – watches are not some dying breed, as not only common sense and a look around will confirm, but so will the continued SUCCESSFUL existence of dozens of watch manufacturers.

    Grr. I should know by now not to bother reading any Elgan articles, given the fact that they are either purely silly opinion pieces or rife with inaccuracies.

  • TylerHoj

    I think the small iPod wrist-watch-like nano was a brief gimmick. Apple wasn’t planning on redoing the hardware last year so they stuck a bunch of clock faces in the iPod nano because that’s what the market was calling for. I see the iPod nano going back to its roots to become an iPod again. Not a wrist watch that plays music.

  • Anthony Velazquez

    Please make this apple! Seeing incoming calls, text messages, notifications, time/weather without pulling my phone out would be a blessing. Throwing in Siri capabilities would be the icing on the cake. Streaming phone calls to the watch by using a mic and speakers on the nano would be even more amazing.

  • welladriansays

    everyone else is claiming a more “touch” style nano with an increase in size? and what use is a nano wristwatch? how do you listen to anything with a wire attached to your wrist?

  • Shnoozy

    I really hope Apple does this

    Here are some other things the iWatch can do
    http://dearapple.com/2011/10/wheres-my-iwatch.html

  • robertk328

    If it had the specs/features above, I’d be in line for one.

  • SupaMac
    Mike,

    You’re ill-informed as usual – watches are not some dying breed, as not only common sense and a look around will confirm, but so will the continued SUCCESSFUL existence of dozens of watch manufacturers.

    Grr. I should know by now not to bother reading any Elgan articles, given the fact that they are either purely silly opinion pieces or rife with inaccuracies.

    I couldn’t get past the first few sentences. This article is pure drivel.

  • John Surdakowski

    The watch will always represent fashion. Apple does not want to get into that space, nor should they. Regardless of the technology, they can never market something in the fashion space. Third parties selling wrist bands for the nano? Now that makes sense.

  • Kyle

    I would order one on day one as well. Great idea, love it.

  • freighttrain2126

    I would buy one if it has bluetooth 4.0, GPS, Gyro, pedometer, accelerometer, wifi, FaceTime camera, loud speaker, iOS (optimized for watch), retina display (would make the small text on the small screen easier to read), 16gb storage or greater, would connect to my iPhone, and have a battery that would last at least an entire day when connected to my iPhone. And priced $199 or less. Though if it truly kicks @$$ I may spend a little more.

  • Tallest_Skil

    I would buy one if it has bluetooth 4.0, GPS, Gyro, pedometer, accelerometer, wifi, FaceTime camera, loud speaker, iOS (optimized for watch), retina display (would make the small text on the small screen easier to read), 16gb storage or greater, would connect to my iPhone, and have a battery that would last at least an entire day when connected to my iPhone. And priced $199 or less. Though if it truly kicks @$$ I may spend a little more.

    So you’d buy it if it was a product that will never exist for any reason.

  • Daniel Hertlein

    Am I the only one thinking that a SIRi capable bluetooth wristwatch would make the all-time greatest iTV remote?

  • Matthew Gonzales Landry

    Mike,

    You’re ill-informed as usual – watches are not some dying breed, as not only common sense and a look around will confirm, but so will the continued SUCCESSFUL existence of dozens of watch manufacturers.

    Grr. I should know by now not to bother reading any Elgan articles, given the fact that they are either purely silly opinion pieces or rife with inaccuracies.

    I forgot to read the part where he said wrist watches were a dying breed. I remember him saying that more people don’t wear watches than those that do, which is a fact, actually. More and more people are leaving the watch behind because it offer no new information that their, the user’s, phone already doesn’t offer.

  • Matthew Gonzales Landry

    I think apple will disappoint. Next iPhone will just be minor screen bump in size. Have a design similar to 4s that is 2 1/2 years old. Nothing major will come out. I doubt they will make a nano watch but maybe improve a nano a bit to be more as a watch. Apple has stopped innovating. They use to be the top devices that blew away the competition. The iPad still does that but with window’s 8 apple better put touchscreens on macs or else it’s game over. Now apple could surprise us and all the iPhone 5 leaks could be fake. Isn’t it strange we Havn’t seen any iPod touch or iPod nano leaks? Only Iphone 5. Kind of fishy… Maybe they will surprise but it looks like that apple has gone and all they care about is money. R.I.P Steve Jobs

    The Windows 8 tablets will cost double what the iPad costs.

    As for the iPhone, the design install that different from the iPhone 4S (from the leaks), but since when was that the whole device? Just including new hardware like an A6 and an improved camera system plus the bigger display really doesn’t result as a minor upgrade. Apple looks to be addressing every area of the phone. It took Apple 4 generations to finally come up with the iPhone 4 design, so get off their nuts about creating another design a big as the iPhone 4. If you can remember, the original iPhone’s design wasn’t that much different from the iPhone 3G/3GS design. That was under Steve Jobs.

  • Jairo

    That would be amazing

  • bernhardush

    The watch in the image above shows the time in a digital format. I see very few people wearing digital watches. A watch should be analog, because the time can be read off an analog watch by simply quickly glancing over it. A digital watch takes much longer to read.

    Of course, the watch in the image could display its time on an analog clock, but you expect a watch to show the time constantly – you don’t want to have to press the home button every time you want to see the time. So suppose the watch’s display were constantly on. I’m pretty sure the battery would not last very long then.

    While on the subject, once the battery is drained, how do you recharge it? If you’re on the move, you’ll have to remove the watch from your arm; there’s just no other way.

    Now have a look at my Fossil watch. It is light and small. It is analog and super quick to read. It shows the time constantly, and I never need to recharge the battery. I just replace the battery once every 2 or 3 years, which is reasonable.

    An iOS watch is silly – traditional watches still have their place and it will still take many years before technology will allow for traditional watches to be replaced by “smart watches”.

  • Trand Josephs

    Dont think I will be giving up my Submariner anytime soon.

    http://www.Anon-Real.tk

  • David Lee

    Watches will always be around in some form. I don’t like pulling my phone out of my pocket, holster, or shoulder bag just to get the time.

  • rpez021

    I sure hope they do, provided it does everything a MOTOACTV does, but within Apple’s ecosystem. I like the Motoactv well-enough, but not enough to keep it given that mine and the rest of my family’s tech life is more and more revolving around an Apple ecosystem (for better or worse!).

  • Richard Updike

    I still wear a normal watch..wonder if Im old / a hipster / Fashionable?

  • Stuka_UK

    Bare wrists are the norm….. My Arse!

  • macberry

    Sadly apple wanted to back track on a good thing! I was already to buy this – I was expecting Bluetooth 4 announcement and instead they reversed the idea to something that doesn’t really excite at all!

  • SupaMac

    Mike, I don’t know where you live but around here in the South East pretty much everyone wears a watch. Across all age groups. I’m 25 and nearly every friend that I have wears a nice timepiece: Tag Heur, Seiko, Cartier, Nixon, Corum, Rolex, you name it. They’re everywhere.

    What an idiotic post!

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Mike ElganMike Elgan writes about technology and culture for a wide variety of publications. Follow Mike on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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