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iWatch Watch: A device for added communications flexibility? Featured

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As the buzz around Apple's new iWatch project builds and details of the patent application have been revealed, it is worth looking at the possible applications of the proposed slap wrap smart bracelet. The question is will there be anything that we can't already do with our phones or will this new wearable wrist computer be an irresistible enhancement to  what we already have?

 In case any of our readers don't already know, plans for the new device have already been discovered from a filing at the US Patent Office in August 2011.

The first paragraph of the filing basically describes the device:

A wearable video device arranged to be worn by an end-user, comprising: a flexible substrate having a flat state and a curled state; a flexible display disposed upon a first surface of the flexible substrate, wherein in the curled state the flexible substrate conforms to an appendage of the end-user, the flexible substrate further comprising: an electronic module in communication with the flexible display, the electronic module providing information to the display, at least a part of which is presented in real time for presentation by the flexible display; and a mechanism for detecting an end portion of the flexible display, the detection for adjusting the arrangement of information shown on the flexible display to match the size of the appendage the wearable video device is mounted on.

That's basically all you need to know to get an idea of what this proposed new offering from Apple is all about. We have a couple of sketches from the patent application included the article to provide a bit of a visual aid.

So in essence what we have here is a spring loaded metal bracelet covered in a protective material which houses a flexible display, a flexible miniaturised computer, an antenna and an IO socket.

This bracelet can be laid out flat or slapped around your wrist and will automatically lock into position aided by its spring loaded design.

The iWatch will have an antenna for wireless connectivity and will have both bluetooth and GPS capability.

The display will be touch sensitive allowing the user to interact with the device.

Thus, the iWatch will be a smart bracelet that would not only be a watch but a wearable bracelet computer that could have all sorts of applications such as GPS navigation, iPod music storage (presumably you would want a bluetooth earpiece for that), calendar, planner, pedometer for sports applications. Could it also be a mini smartphone? Perhaps.

According to a number of reports, the makers of the material for flexible displays Corning will not have anything suitable for this device for another three years. However, other reports say that other manufacturers such as LG could have a flexible display ready for Apple by the end of 2013.

OK we basically know what it will look like and we have a fair idea what it can do but are the wildly enthusiastic tech pundits who claim that an iWatch such as this could be worth as much as $6 billion a year of the $60 billion global watches market on the mark?

In my view, being the contrarian that I am, the answer is not likely.

There are a number of points to consider that have led me to that conclusion.

The first point is that these days watches are worn by men and women more as a jewellery accessory than anything else. And most young people simply don't wear watches at all.

The fact is that smartphones like the iPhone, Galaxy range and less expensive models, which practically everyone in mainstream society carries as a mandatory item along with their house keys and purse, have largely replaced the need for a wrist watch.

Given that fact, we could argue that the iWatch is not really a watch but a communications bracelet. If it had voice and data capabilities, could it replace our smartphones though?

Not really, smartphone owners have been asking for bigger screens not smaller ones and, voice calls aside, the number one application for users - especially young people - is texting. Consumers have been asking for larger screens because they are increasingly using their smartphones as web devices, for watching videos and even reading.

Some commentators have remarked upon the likelihood of the iWatch being an extension of the iPhone sitting in the pocket or purse, wirelessly communicating instant messages and voice calls. Add in the possibility of being able to communicate voice to text messages using voice recognition and controlling the iPod library on your iPhone, and you have a device that enhances and extends the capabilities of your smartphone.

All of the above would make the iWatch a handy item to have on your wrist. But do you need to have it in the same way that you need your phone? Could it replace your phone? The answer in both cases is no.

Given that the advent of an iWatch is not going to persuade anyone to throw away their iPhone - and Apple wouldn't want that to happen anyway - the iWatch then falls into the category of "that would be nice to have but I don't really need it". Unfortunately for Apple, that is not a category worth $6 billion a year.


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.