Apple is a company known for innovation. But its rumored iWatch may be a huge misstep.
Written by Michael Thomsen (@mike_thomsen)
The advent of wearable computers was one of Ray Kurzweil's early predictions about the ever nearing Singularity, the moment when computer intelligence will surpass human intelligence and slowly slip out of our control. At the time he said it, the prediction was as strange sounding as the idea we might all one day be wearing phone booths, and yet both have come to pass in their own ways, though in doing so both have revealed arcane inflexibility in how we used to think about computers and phone booths. With smartphones, the world is your phone booth, and with portable, wearable computers it becomes your office and entertainment center.
Apple has arguably played the biggest role in the transformation of both telephone and computer from weighted masses of plastic anchored in place, to constant travel companions, adornments we have begun to treat almost like prized dolls, dressed up in colorful rubber outerwear. For being the prime mover in Ray Kurzweil's futurism, Apple has become the most profitable company in the world, its 2012 earnings of $41.84 billion rank as the sixth most profitable year in recorded history. Mysteriously, the stock market responded to Apple's good tidings with an 11% drop in its share price.
Once Apple came to dominate the smartphone market, the next step in its product line could be a backward one, attempting to revive an outmoded technology.
This schism between skeptical investors and enthusiastic customers is the culmination of a growing uneasiness about Apple's future products becoming overly formulaic, or rather insufficiently miraculous. To compensate for the absence of miracles, rumors have circulated that the company is working on wristwatch that will have the magical properties of an iPhone available by simply looking down at your wrist. A Bloomberg report cited former Nike creative director Scott Wilson in claiming Apple's design chief Jony Ive had visited its watch factories and taken boxes of samples for study. The report also notes Apple has filed 79 different patents that include the word "wrist," with one showing a design for a wraparound wrist band display.
The idea is both plausible and absurd, forwarded by "people familiar with the company's plans." Apple's general trajectory over the last decade has been to simplify the way one interacts with computers and shrink them into a broader array of portable categories, encouraging people to first turn first to their touchscreens for grocery lists, emails, and pastimes. Having a wristwatch join this array, a smaller and marginally more accessible alternative to a smartphone, does somewhat fit with the company's general strategy, but it's also veers into improvements so peripheral to what is currently offered by iPhones and iPod Nanos that the benefits would be hard to pick out and hold onto.