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Can a 'nifty' iWatch from Apple catch on?

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 14, 2013
A watch that doubles as a computer and two-way radio has been a technology vision since at least the 1950s. But if recent reports that Apple's interested in an 'iWatch' are true, would such a device sell?

An iWatch would also be great for receiving notifications of upcoming meetings or for alerts on good fares for airline travel. With Siri voice assistant capability, it would be relatively easy to transmit a text message or email quickly, analysts said.

Llamas argued that an iWatch would make more sense for wearable computing applications than Google's glasses. "Not all of us wear glasses, and they could fall off" more easily than a watch, Llamas said.

Since there are already wearable computing devices on the market, Apple shouldn't assume its iWatch will automatically catch on, unless it provides a range of functions that consumers want, some analysts warned.

"Apple has distinguished itself in the industry for innovative, easy-to-use products, but it's unclear whether a smartwatch will be a revolutionary product for Apple as the iPod and iPhone were when first introduced," said Karl Volkman, the chief technology officer at SRV Network, a networking consultancy. "An iWatch would have to provide significantly better capabilities and usability than its competitors to do so.

"Products like the Sony SmartWatch and MetaWatch have started the trend," Volkman added. "It makes sense for Apple to collect information about all available products and attempt to create a better, more well-rounded device that can outsmart competitors."

Jawbone Inc. and Nike also sell computing devices worn on the wrist to monitor a person's activities, analysts noted.

Big players in the tech industry haven't always done well with smartwatches, with analysts noting that Microsoft showed off a smartwatch concept a decade ago at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show. That device was based on Smart Personal Objects Technology. Several watch makers incorporated the technology for a few years, but it never took off.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, noted that computing components have gotten smaller, cheaper and much more powerful since the Microsoft concept was announced, but that doesn't mean Apple will succeed.

"Most people are giving up watches in favor of just using their smartphones," Gold noted. "I'm not sure what bucking the trend means for Apple. What would Apple's product benefits be? Would it replace my phone? Would it replace my iPod, which my iPhone is already replacing? I'd have to see a strong value proposition before I'm convinced this is a good idea."

Llamas is nonetheless sure that Apple's interest in an iWatch will provoke interest by consumers in wearable computers. "That's the great thing about Apple," Llamas said. "There's certain to be a number of followers, like the BlackBerries and the Qualcomms and the Linuxes."

Samsung showed off bendable displays at the 2013 CES International, and can be expected to enter the wearable computing space in a big way, several analysts said.

In addition, wearable computing is expected to be a major theme at the upcoming Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.


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