When Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke at length to kick off the D11 conference, he ignited a new firestorm of speculation regarding Apple's stake in the wearable computing market. Rumors have long told us that Apple is working on a smartwatch, but now Cook's latest comments leave me convinced that the company is indeed working on wearable technology. As well it should.
First, let's look closer at Cook's comments. He said, "Wearables are incredibly interesting ... it could be a profound area." He said wearable computing is "ripe for exploration, and it's ripe for us to get excited about" while acknowledging that there are "lots of things to solve." Finally, Cook added, "The wrist is natural," seemingly as a destination for wearable technology.
Clearly, wrist-worn wearables are on Apple's radar. It's a booming new technology category, and a sector that's ripe for Apple's taking. All Cook and company need to do is harness the same expertise and design savvy that propelled existing Apple product lines to greatness.
I already own two smartwatches: a red Pebble and a black MetaWatch Frame. I like both products, but I'm keenly aware of their limitations. Indeed, the folks who are buying smartwatches today are really buying into the promise of smartwatches. Current smartwatches just don't do that much, and the execution on their existing feature sets is limited. The smartwatch industry is still in its infancy.
This is particularly obvious when we compare the launch of smartwatches with the launch of multitouch smartphones. The first iPhone showed incredible promise, though offered only a small slate of built-in apps, a lousy camera, and not much else. It was clearly more advanced than anything else at the time, and people bought lots of them. If smartwatches can evolve as dramatically over the next six years as the iPhone has over the previous six years, wrist-based computing will go from interesting to awesome very quickly.
Now let's toss wrist-worn sleep and fitness trackers like the Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex into the mix. I've tested both, and give each device a high rating, but each gadget reminds me of the first iPhone, showing signs of greatness along with room for growth. They work reasonably well, and their software expressions are strong, with pleasant data graphs and friendly social features built into their activity-tracking platforms. But both wristbands are handicapped by limited hardware: You need to launch their connected apps to get a precise window into your activity progress, as neither device sports a display.
If the Pebble, MetaWatch Frame, Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex tell us anything, it's that wearable computing has legs as an emerging product category. And these devices are quickly being purchased by more than just highly tech-savvy early adopters. My mom, dad, two sisters, wife, and a slew of friends all use some Fitbit device. And it's not just my Twitter timeline that's full of Pebble owners: I have neighbors sporting them, too.
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