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Apple iWatch set to disrupt... what exactly?

Mark Hattersley | March 15, 2013
Apple disrupts markets for a living. But what market does the iWatch disrupt? The wristwatch market... really?

Nick Hayek Jr. head of Swatch GroupAG really doesn't seem to care too much about the iWatch either. "Personally, I don't believe it's the next revolution," the chief of the largest Swiss watchmaker said at a press conference on annual results in Grenchen, Switzerland. "Replacing an iPhone with an interactive terminal on your wrist is difficult. You can't have an immense display."

It's even harder to imagine Cartier or Gucci being worried by Apple. While James Bond needs a timepiece, he's hardly likely to swap the Rolex for an iWatch, and neither are people buying luxury Swiss-brand watches. They're different devices, sold for different purposes. A Rolex is a style statement, specifically one that suggests the owner is 'minted' rather than fulfilling any functional need (other than, perhaps, the obvious one related to power and wealth being an aphrodisiac).

However, as design and management 'surgeon' Kontra reminds us, Palm CEO Ed Colligan once said: "We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone... PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in."

Which is exactly what Apple did with the iPhone. They walked in with a device that was much more advanced than anything anybody thought of. One that fulfilled a need that wasn't even conceivable at the time.

In fact, most devices that Apple created that shook up a market were consistently derided by the manufacturers of devices in the top spot at the time. From Palm deriding the iPhone, to BlackBerry

For fun read this BusinessInsider piece called "All the dumb things RIM's CEOs said while Apple and Android ate their lunch" whenever any business leader derides Apple speculation.

But what problem does the iWatch solve? That's a much bigger question. The problem of telling the time, of a stopwatch on your finger? We can't really see a problem here, even if current digital watches are a bit clunky. Is there a huge pent-up demand for a stopwatch with a swish multi-touch interface that we're unaware of? Or digital alarm clock that can be voice activated?

Apple is good at finding solutions to problems that we didn't know existed, such as the iPhone which didn't so much replace the mobile phone as give us a pocket-sized computer that worked. But it has to be something other than the watch itself? If Apple's making a watch then it's disrupting something, but it's not the watch industry.

Perhaps the iWatch's job isn't so much to replace the watch, as to introduce the wear-able computer. Its job is to introduce the era where our computers are integrated with our clothes and accessories, what exactly we will do with these wear-able computers will evolve over the next few years. But the ball has to start somewhere, so it starts with the watch.

 

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