The New York Times is reporting today that Apple has begun developing an iOS-based smartwatch. Sources familiar with the company's plans tell the Times that the watch will be made from curved glass, setting it apart from competitors such as Pebble's smartwatch. At the moment, however, it seems the watch is still in a nascent stage of development. Sources said Apple is currently experimenting with wearable form factors, but gave no details of the device's design, or whether it will be released to the market anytime soon.
Rumors of a so-called "iWatch" have been circulating since at least 2011, when the Times first reported about Apple and Google's forays into wearable computing. At the time, Apple's experiments were described as a logical extension of the iPod Nano — a "curved glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist." Then, sources close to the company said users would be able to communicate with the device using Siri, though it remains to be seen whether or not this is still part of Apple's plans.
"The human body moves in unpredictable ways."
Yet today's report suggests that Apple has at least begun taking the concept more seriously, thanks in large part to advances in bendable technology. Last year, Corning unveiled its latest Willow Glass display — a slim, flexible substrate that seems tailor-made for Apple's wristwatch. "You can certainly make it wrap around a cylindrical object and that could be someone’s wrist," Corning CTO Pete Bocko told the Times. “Right now, if I tried to make something that looked like a watch, that could be done using this flexible glass."
But Bocko warned that despite his company's progress, designing glass wearables for the human body is still a challenging task. "The human body moves in unpredictable ways," he said. "It’s one of the toughest mechanical challenges."
If Apple does launch an iOS-based watch, it will do so amid increasing competition in the wearable tech market — not only from Pebble, but from Google, as well. A company executive told the Times that Google hopes its Google Glass headset will eventually comprise three percent of its revenue by 2015, as the search giant begins its push to make wearable computing mainstream.
And although the future of its experiments remains uncertain, Apple's leadership appears to be enthusiastic about breaking into the wearables market. CEO Tim Cook is reportedly a fan of the Nike Fuel Band, while sources close to the company tell the Times that senior vice president Bob Mansfield is "engrossed" with similar technologies that connect to the iPhone via Bluetooth.
Update: The Wall Street Journal is corroborating the Times report, citing sources that also say Apple is experimenting with designs for a smartwatch. The WSJ says that Apple has discussed the device with Foxconn, which is said to be working on technology that could be used in wearable devices.