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Why Apple will enter (and dominate) the wearable technology market

Lex Friedman | May 31, 2013
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.

So it makes good sense that Apple would want to enter this market. People are interested in, and are already buying, wearable technology--this despite the fact that the current crop is so immature. All of which leads us to Apple's opportunity.

What Apple is good at
Apple's good at a lot of things, sure, but one of the areas in which it excels is displays. And this is where Apple could immediately make a splash in the wearable market--precisely because the competition hasn't delivered. The Pebble and the MetaWatch Frame both employ two-tone displays that only work well in bright light. The Jawbone Up and Fitbit Flex, meanwhile, don't include any meaningful displays at all.

So you can see where this is going: There's no reason why we should need both a smartwatch and a pedometer--the features those wearables offer should be combined into a single device. And, assuming there's a way to surmount the not-insignificant battery hurdles, a beautiful, color touch-display would make a whole lot more sense than the psuedo-e-Ink displays that smartwatches boast today.

Apple wouldn't stop with a bright, touchable, interactive display on its wearable device. The company could also easily work around the challenges facing most existing accessories today--chiefly, the limitations and flakiness of Bluetooth. Some newer accessories use BTLE, a lower-energy version of Bluetooth 4.0, but that limits what devices can do, and it doesn't always work reliably. Indeed, I re-pair my smartwatches and step trackers at least a couple times per week.

Should Apple release wearable technology that relies on Bluetooth/BTLE, you can bet that the company would improve iOS's Bluetooth handling. My money, however, is on Apple pulling an AirPlay. Just as the company introduced AirPlay--a proprietary and arguably superior alternative to Bluetooth for audio streaming--I wouldn't be the least surprised if it introduced a better take on remote device syncing that eschewed Bluetooth again.

Apple wants you to own an iPhone
Finally, if Apple does make a smartwatch or some other type of wearable technology, it will do so to realize a new spin on the old halo effect. Apple's long maintained that when customers try out iPods, iPhones, or iPads, they realize that Apple's really good at what it does, and increasingly turn to Macs the next time they buy a computer.

So when Apple releases its own wearable technology, it's not going to work with your Android Phone, Windows Phone, or--struggling to keep a straight face here--BlackBerry. You want to wear Apple's new hypothetical technology? You're going to need an iPhone.

While Apple's priority is profit share--and here it's definitely winning--the company won't mind selling many more iPhones to customers desperate to get their hands on wearable technology.


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