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No iWatch, no problem: Why Apple was wise to delay its smartwatch launch

Jon Phillips | June 4, 2014
There's no reason to release a smartwatch in a wearables market fraught with bad press, broken hardware and consumer ambivalence.

There's also the embarrassing specter of user attrition in the activity tracker space. A January study by Endeavor Partners indicates that more than half of U.S. consumers who've owned fit-tech wristbands have stopped using them. Maybe this is what provoked Nike to abandon its FuelBand hardware. Perhaps we've hit peak wristband, and are on the downward slide.

Smartwatches have fared poorly as well. Pebble has a devoted fan base, but Sony's smartwatches come and go silently in the night, while Samsung's efforts have received a sustained chorus of negative press. My review of the Galaxy Gear was representative of critical reception, as was my review of the Gear Fit--a smartwatch-activity tracker hybrid that so many critics wanted to love, but just plain doesn't work as advertised. 

There's also the nagging issue of nichey sales numbers. Samsung is by far the biggest name in smartwatches, and is on track to sell 2 million units this year, at least if we extrapolate from 500,000 first-quarter sales. But Apple is estimated to have sold55 million iPhones in that same Q1 time frame. This puts Samsung's smartwatch squarely (sadly, pathetically) in what Steve Jobs would call "still a hobby" territory.

Then we have snake oil companies like Healbe making outrageous claims about automatic calorie counting, calling into question the legitimacy of the entire wearables industry. And, of course, Glass. Oh, Google Glass. It makes normal people fear for their privacy and safety. It provokes class warfare on the streets of San Francisco. It's birthed its own epithet. It's the poster child for the "I wouldn't be caught dead wearing that in public" wearables aesthetics. Glass has become walking billboard for consumer mistrust of the wearables space.

And we expect Apple to just blithely release an iWatch into all of this?

When they're good and ready
Add up all the numbers. Sort the data. Sift through the testimonials. If Apple were to release an iWatch into the current wearables gestalt, anything short of a grand slam product would be a crushing defeat. 

That's a risk that's not worth taking. Not now. Not yet. Not when when Apple is still riding high, commanding a leadership position in the smartphone and tablet space, at least in profits if not units sold. 

Apple will release a wearable as soon as the time as right, as soon as it makes sense. As soon as Siri has the intelligence of Google Now. As soon as HomeKit and HealthKit are begging for an interface on our wrists. As soon as multi-day battery life is in the bag. As soon as apps can be effectively miniaturized to a 1-inch display. As soon as consumers warm to the very idea of wrist computers. As soon as we've all evacuated the very last traces of wearables-mocking bile from our hyper-critical systems.


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