Almost two years ago, I speculated about what an iWatch might be like. So let's see how well I did. And then speculate some more about the things we still don't know.
- I said the watch wouldn't have its own cellular connection. Check.
- ❝Wi-Fi is not impossible, but it's unlikely—dealing with different Wi-Fi networks and intermittent connectivity is just too onerous.❞ I gather that the watch will have 802.11g Wi-Fi, but it won't connect to Wi-Fi networks, the Wi-Fi will probably only be used in Wi-Fi Direct mode to transfer data to the watch faster than bluetooth on its own would be able to. Counting this as a correct prediction.
- ❝It will undoubtedly be an accessory for the iPhone❞. An iPhone 5 or later is required. Check.
- ❝It may be an accessory for other devices in the Apple ecosystem, such as iPods, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs.❞ It won't be.
- I talked about several days battery life and quick charging. We don't have all the info yet, but it looks like that's not happening.
- ❝I'm not sure whether Apple would reuse the Lighting connector, use something MagSafe-like that allows for charging while wearing the watch, or adopt some form of wireless charging.❞ Charging while wearing the watch is out, but Lightning and wireless are in there. I'm counting this as correct.
- I said the screen would be LCD and not e-ink or OLED. I'm not counting this one because Apple hasn't said what type the screen is, although it looks like regular color LCD.
- I thought it would be important for the screen to show something at all times, but it looks like Apple is using motion sensing to turn on the screen when needed. We'll see how well that's going to work in practice. Counting this as an incorrect prediction, rendering some subsequent speculation about the screen moot.
- I thought Apple might use a round display. They didn't.
- I dismissed a scroll wheel/ring around the watch face (correct), assumed the presence of a home button (correct) but didn't think of the "digital crown" (incorrect).
- I thought a microphone would be possible (correct) but not a speaker (incorrect).
- It of course has a vibration alert (of sorts). Check.
- I went along with Bruce Tognazzini's ideas about morse code. The idea that the watch will be used for new forms of communication was correct, but the morse code thing wasn't. Drawing on the screen is of course much easier than learning morse code.
- ❝It will undoubtedly have a selection of beautifully designed watch faces❞. Yeah, I really went out on a limb with that one.
- I was doubtful about apps running on the watch itself. Incorrect, it looks like.
- Marking and deleting emails and other messages: check.
- Controlling audio playback on other devices from the watch: check.
- I speculated that the watch would be able to play audio (correct) but that Apple wouldn't want to have a headphone connector (correct) but didn't make the obvious next step of predicting bluetooth audio (incorrect).
- I thought the watch could be used to unlock other devices though bluetooth proximity sensing (incorrect, so far) and thought the watch might detect when you've taken it off and then require re-authentication (correct). Pinging your iPhone in order to find where it is: check.
- I mentioned NFC payments. Check.
- ❝The iWatch could display a miniature version of Apple's maps for the purpose of walking directions.❞ Check. Unknown whether it has an electronic compass.
- Unknown whether the watch will have a local copy of contacts, notes and calendar items or can transfer phone numbers to other devices.
- Monitor your movements like a fitbit: check. Monitor your pulse: check.
- I didn't like a curved face. Check.
- I didn't think chrome or steel would happen (mostly incorrect) but didn't rule out black/anodized aluminium (correct) and user-replacable straps (correct).
- I thought 51 mm would be an upper limit on the size of the watch and predicted 33 to 38 mm as the size of the screen. Counting this one as correct, even though the larger version is 42 mm (I assume that's the screen size).
- I assumed the device would be called "iWatch": incorrect.
So that's 22 correct and 12 incorrect or missed predictions/speculations for a 69% score. Not too bad.
When watching the unveiling last month, it was obvious that the design has been in the works for a long time and was almost certainly finalized some time ago, while the software is still a work in progress, and it's hard to say what the status of the electronics is. Also, Apple isn't telling the whole story quite yet. Sure, sending someone your heartbeat is cute. But that's not a reason to include two LEDs and two photosensors on the back, which is obviously expensive in cost of hardware/manufacturing and power use.
Speaking of power, I'm really interested to learn more on what Apple has managed to accomplish here. It's amazing how much faster mobile CPUs have gotten the past five years—although some people are already speculating the growth is leveling off. That same technology can be used to make a much more modest CPU use very little power. People say that on smartphones the screen is the part that uses the most power, but that's not really true: you can watch 10 hours of video on an iPhone (screen on but doesn't use much CPU) while you can play games (that also use a lot of CPU/GPU power) for much less than that. But on the watch, the screen could easily be the biggest battery hog.
I'm thinking both screen and mobile CPU/GPU technology are a lot more mature than they were even a few years ago, so would it make sense to release newer, better versions of the watch every year? I'm thinking the watch would be more like the tv in this regard: the internals are updated at some point but marketing-wise, this is a non-event. Also, I expect Apple to sacrifice margins initially so they can use the best screens and batteries for the 1.0 models. Margins will improve as screens and batteries of that quality get cheaper.
In the past, 1.0 versions of new products often had obvious flaws, especially in hindsight. I'm hoping the technologies are mature enough that this won't be the case for the watch. Probably the biggest limitations of the watch 1.0 will be lack of cellular connectivity and GPS. It could be a very long time until those radios are efficient enough to be powered by the battery inside a watch. Or maybe only a few years.
For now, the watch will use an iPhone to connect to the internet and determine your location. Most of the time, that won't be a big deal as you're going to have your phone with you anyway, because you can actually read somewhat-longform text on it as well as type on it. (It looks like the Apple Watch doesn't support any form of text entry on the device itself.) However, the iPhone is relatively fragile, so there are times when you don't want to bring it with you. For instance, I took up inline skating a couple of months ago. I've had a few falls. In one case, I landed squarely on my phone, but fortunately it was in a heavy-duty case. I also ruined my earbuds on another fall. So leaving the iPhone at home and listening to podcasts on an watch with bluetooth headphones would be great when skating.
Ben Thompson thinks that a standalone watch will arrive within a few years, and Apple is making sure the ecosystem to support such a device will be ready when that happens by leveraging the iPhone to provide connectivity for the watch. In their podcast, he and James Allworth argue about whether that's an appropriate strategy or Apple should have chosen to either release an unconnected watch now, or wait until the watch could handle its own cellular connectivity.
In my opinion, that's a decision best done on a per-app basis, just like on the phone. Your iPhone doesn't turn into a brick when you put it into airplane mode, although obviously some applications don't do much without connectivity. Also, there's an intermediate step: Wi-Fi. I don't look forward to typing WPA2 passwords on a screen the size of two postage stamps, but once you've set up your home/work/school networks, you can be connected most of the day without needing an iPhone or a cellular contract. (Which makes me wonder how schools will react to kids/students wearing this type of smart watches.)
Of course Apple brilliantly managed our pricing expectations with "starts at 349 dollars". Before this, I thought at that $200 the Pebble watch was at the upper end of what I'd be willing to pay. But by the time we get to stand in line, $350 will be old news and we'll pay that without blinking. And then $80 for an extra band, or $700 - $1000 for the stainless steel model. Obviously the gold models will be much more expensive, but the question is: how much more expensive? Apparently Rolexes and the like can cost many tens of thousands of dollars. I'm thinking just like Apple is dragging up the low end, they'll probably drag down the high end. $3500 sounds like a nice, round number that still quite a few people can afford. Maybe they'll go a bit higher, but I doubt they'll break the $10k barrier.
Permalink - posted 2014-10-07