Make no mistake, Apple has evaluated, designed, and strongly considered variations of a smart watch, but the tech media is blowing up with absolute certainty that "the iWatch" will be released. It won't. The is no iWatch. I'm not saying it will never be released, but not in 2014, and likely not for at least a handful of years after that, if ever.
There have been compelling discussions on this. One by Craig Hockenberry at Furbo, and another by Ben Bajarin at Techpinions - both are excellent reads. Craig's highlights a multitude of serious concerns for entering the wearable space and poses the quintessential question for Apple:
What problems can a wearable device solve?
That is how Apple is looking at this problem, and there are few, if any, compelling arguments for why Apple should enter the market. The reasons not to enter the market are overwhelming, here are some key issues.
- They're competing with highly skilled, tremendously well designed, and thoroughly entrenched parties for the wrist real estate.
- Entering a market where the measure of style and quality is not even remotely within reach in the sub-$1000 market is problematic. Apple cannot release a watch that expensive for several reasons, namely because tech is outdated so fast and people will be expected to replace this device relatively frequently (every iPhone or two, even three). Traditional watches last forever.
- Making a watch is very different from providing a solution that classifies as wearable technology.
- The technology simply doesn't exist to make a beautiful design, long battery life, nice screen, and compelling fitness features. The Moto360 is attractive, but far too thick, no word on battery life, no word on price, and doesn't have any fitness features.
Apple has always been about cultivating a user experience that is vastly aided by a carefully nurtured ecosystem. That is a major reason why platform lock-in is so common. The ecosystem is so great, you want to use it. Once you have invested in it, it's really tough to leave unless you want to forfeit your investment.
To this end, Ben highlights a far more likely scenario to explain all of the Healthbook features seen in the iOS 8 leaks.
In short, what if Apple is preparing to enable and empower an ecosystem of wearables, made by third parties, but with unique and proprietary hooks to the iPhone. Healthbook would simply serve as a mechanism to work with third party hardware, along with specific APIs, and display key data for the consumer. This makes the most sense to me. Apple would encourage and enable third party hardware companies to build value around the iPhone and make the platform stronger.
That doesn't just sound like Apple, it screams Apple. It oozes of Apple. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to wearable tech. Every person has a different daily routine, different activities, and different health concerns. It is impossible for any one device to cover all of these with today's technology.
The iPhone works because the overlap in usage is so large for smartphone users that the iPhone works, in one way or another, for millions of people (for those where it doesn't work, there are other platforms). I don't see a similar market opportunity for wearables as it sits today.
I fully expect Apple to accelerate and enable technology growth in this space to make things interesting, I just don't think they'll be releasing an iWatch to make that happen.
UPDATE: Given some of the feedback, I thought it is worth clarifying my position on the iWatch. I would love for an iWatch to be a real thing. After owning and liking some things about the Pebble, I'm confident I will be wearing a smart watch in the future, and who better than Apple to make it? That being said, this article outlines what I consider to be the overwhelmingly convincing case as to why that isn't happening in the short term. I sincerely hope to be wrong.
UPDATE (03/17/15): Apple did the primary thing I suspected they would not do – they are taking on the high end watch market. I still believe that both types of products can coexist, but I didn't see this one coming. I was partially right saying that there wouldn't be a watch in 2014, there was a more finished product than I expected, but not a product for sale. That being said, I still think they are a full year ahead of where I would have expected them to be at the time (much like the retina iPad Mini in 2013).