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)



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