A New Category of Device

apple watchEarlier this month Apple unveiled the Apple Watch and made several other announcements.  Here are a few tidbits before getting to my thoughts on the watch:

  • Doing good. Apple is opening up a tool called ResearchKit for opensource development that works across platforms. They have realized that medical research could benefit from wider participation and easy (don’t need to enroll in a research project) feedback, unencumbered by the barriers of a research. A lot of feedback can be gathered from an iPhone, such as the performance of motor skills by Parkinson’s disease patients. I’m excited to see where this goes.
  • The all-new MacBook is pretty cool. New screen, new keyboard, new touchpad, new USB Type-C (one cable for everything), new unibody case, new batteries and main processor board. This is an indicator of ultraportable laptops yet to come. There’s still no touch screen, but the operating system requires a revamp first.

Now, the Apple Watch. Prices range from $349 to $17,000 (18K gold). While I’m not going to be standing in line to buy one, I do see the promise of this new category. It’s a new form factor, data tracker, small display and smart user interface all rolled into a fashion accessory. Christy Turlington was on stage to prove that point (and not much else).

Let’s recall the trajectory of the cellular phone. Motorola was on the top of their game with the StarTAC. Then, there were a series of attempts that seemed to smash together a cell phone with a PalmPilot (before the advent of the wireless internet), resulting in various clunky devices. Eventually, with the launch of the iPhone in 2007, the package of features that we now recognize as a smartphone began to come together.

There is likely to be a similar evolution with smartwatches. Who remembers the Casio models from the 1980s? Wearables have also been around a long time for athletes, and are just now coming into the mainstream. Products like Pebble Time integrate notifications with your phone and other smartphone based applications. The Apple Watch takes it to a whole new level. It’s a multifunction, multi-sensory, customizable, touch and voice enabled, interconnected, watch-to-watch and watch-to-phone device. Plus it has its own app store.

Like all new technology, it’s not going to be about the hardware (although it is pretty spiffy)—it’s going to be about how it impacts our behaviors. I believe the package of functionality and variety of different uses will be pretty compelling.

Is it like a new iPod (another escalation of an entire category brought on by Apple)? After all, who remembers the Zune or Rio portable media players? Or is it destined to go the way of Apple’s MessagePad that ran on a Newton OS platform? Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet against Apple on this one.



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