Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Can the iWatch be more than mere iCandy? (or iWash?!)

Wearable devices will wear thin unless they’re able to meet a unique need.

Gadget-watching circles are agog  with a great deal of speculation over the latest gizmo reputed to be in Apple’s pipeline.  The excitement is perhaps understandable, given that Apple has introduced a host of glamorous products over the years*.

Here’s my take:  Nobody has yet demonstrated (or even alluded to) some functionality a wearable device can perform that a handheld device can't. Functionality being attributed to wearable computers – monitoring the wearer’s health parameters, keeping track of the user’s life experiences etc. - can be pretty much done by handheld devices. And since there are already over a billion handheld devices (aka phones) out there, it's difficult to imagine what new value a new genre of wearable devices can bring to the world. 

I'm not saying wearable devices won't be useful, just that they need to sport some really unique feature - i.e., they must meet a need that cannot be catered to by existing form factors (desktop, laptop, handheld,..) that computing devices come in.  

Otherwise, they’ll just be fashionable devices with questionable functional  value.

A similar logic applies to the much-hyped Google Glass (although I must say I have greater respect for Google’s more open approach to innovation).

* Personally I am somewhat less than sanguine about Apple’s ability to sustain its vaunted innovative prowess. Historically, the astonishing successes of Apple’s products were essentially driven by the genius of one man. And Steve Jobs did not institutionalize that innovation into the company’s DNA, so there isn’t much reason to believe it can be sustained after him. (Even Jobs’ genius is considerably diminished by the fact that barely a year after his death, his own company introduced the 7.9” iPad mini tablet – a screen size he declared would be “DOA”, and one that Apple would never make !).
Apple’s closed, proprietary, secretive approach to innovation is also likely to be a liability for the company going ahead (although Apple has shown with the Mac that it can be open when the need is high).