The iWatch is (potentially) really, real.

Background

A theoretical iWatch could just be baseless rumours and speculation but at the same time it could be really real, regardless nobody outside of Apple's secret lab can say for definite.

However, one thing we do know is that Apple likes turning stagnant, niche industries into billion dollar mainstream success stories, as with the iPhone and iPad. People said Apple couldn't compete in the crowded phone arena, people said that tablets are too niche and don't provide any significant use cases required to propel the segment into mainstream adoption.

Now the smartwatch market is still in its relative infancy compared to the tablet and phone markets, with few products released from some niche players and some half attempts from the giants like Motorola and Sony. Although as witnessed from CES 2013 the wearable market industry, particularly the fitness segment is reaching a fever pitch and is just waiting for an established player to come in and take the market. The smartwatch market then can be seen as ripe for a player like Apple to come in and blow the market wide open. Specifically, an iWatch could be the harbinger to an entire new ecosystem of wearable devices and greater human-technology integration such as home automation, and the internet of things, but this is an entire different market and is better discussed in relation to the magical yet nonexistent iTV. It's not just Apple that can take the lead here, with Google Glass demonstrating Google's keen interest.

For the purposes of this post I will split the content into two headings, software + hardware. Most of the content is just speculation and could all just be a series of dreams and what ifs on my part.

Hardware

There are many reasons to believe that an iWatch is actually happening. Firstly, it important to note where the current smartwatches have gone wrong and that is with hardware. Most smartwatches with any real functionality require daily charges and have short battery life's, with the exception of the pebble. But the pebble is compromised as it only has a black and white e-ink screen and problems with viewing angles.

The need for an always on LCD on the other hand has the effect of causing the low battery life. So what is the solution? Well, the likes of Qualcomm's Mirasol display and Pixel Qi's display technology allows low power consumption, full colour, and similar readability to that enjoyed with e-ink. Granted that these technologies have struggled to hit mass production but it shows that such displays are possible.

Now here is where it gets interesting. What if you could have a low power, always on colour screen, with a battery that lasts about a week on a charge, as seen with the pebble? But, what if in addition to that you could integrate a solar panel behind the screen that could continue to top up the battery as you wore it on your wrist?

It's never been done before but if we look to this patent from Apple in 2008 (http://www.macrumors.com/2008/05/26/solar-lcd-powered-ipods-iphones-and-laptops/) and more recently in (http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/02/05/apples-solar-cell-multitouch-panels-may-harvest-energy-for-future-iphones), it is apparent that this something Apple is working on.

Then you have this quote on Pixel Qi's homepage, "By overhauling the architecture of screens we have figured out how to drive the power consumption of a device by 10-100X such that a small solar panel...can supply the entire power needed for the device" showing what is possible with such displays and solar panels.

Additionally, Qualcomm in mid 2012 stopped active production of Mirasol devices instead seeking licensing of the technology (http://www.engadget.com/2012/07/23/qualcomm-axes-its-own-mirasol-production/) and along with their recent investment with Foxconn into Sharp (http://www.idownloadblog.com/2012/12/04/qualcomm-comes-to-the-rescue-invests-120m-in-sharp-to-help-advance-igzo-panels/) it certainly paints an interesting picture.

The theoretical Apple watch would then be able to provide a vibrant display and last long enough on a charge, two vital components required for mainstream adoption.

The next flaw with current smartwatches is in the design and materials used. Put simply most of these watches bar a few, don't look like something your average consumer would strap to their wrist. Design is by far Apple's biggest strength and if Ive & Co are let loose on designing a potential watch, something mainly used in the age of the smartphone as a fashion accessory, I have no doubt that they could conjure up something magical and shiny that the average person will NEED to have. Now what about materials; the words unibody, glass and liquidmetal come to mind. There have been recent rumors of curved glass and there's no doubt that Apple has been exploring the idea of curved glass. This recent patent application (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/12/apple-patents-glass-molding-technique/) and reports of purchases of 300 glass cutting machines by Apple in 2011 (http://www.geek.com/articles/mobile/apple-buys-glass-cutters-for-curved-iphone-5-display-20110523/) attests to that.

In addition to this is the various sensors that could be added such as hear rate, accelerometer, temperature etc. Where companies, for instance, Nike, could make app's that take advantage of these sensors to make compelling apps.

So design and usability is down, hardware a lock.

Software

The software on current smartwatch offerings has been impeded by two major factors a lack of resources and not having control of a host platform such as iOS or Android to the extent required to produce a seamless user experience. Another thing Apple excels at; integrating software and hardware.

The important part for consumers is not the underlying platform or architecture it is the use cases that the device can allow. A lot of these use cases were described in a recent article by an ex Apple employee. Some of the more appealing ones and some additional ones are as follows:

1. NFC: Using your watch for payments, authentication is much more convenient than pulling out your phone.

2. Real time information and alerts ala Google Now: Imagine you're in the city want to know when the next train home is? It's already there on the screen. Want to try someplace new for lunch? Reviews of various food outlets appear on screen.

3. Notification: No more getting your phone out every couple of minutes to check for missed notifications

4. Control: Easily skip the track your listening to, decline/answer calls.

There are various other use cases but these were the ones that stood out to me personally. Siri integration is another possibility but, Siri has so far failed, in my opinion to offer a compelling use case. But for things such as setting timers and alarms, I guess, Siri will be pretty neat.

Conclusion

Many commentators have expressed that they don't see the point in a watch when everyone has got a phone in their watch these days. Others have said that no one wears a watch anymore. But if you think of this not as a watch but a screen or a portal that connects and brings together all of your other devices it is a much more compelling offering. Of course no one is giving up their Rolex to wear one of these but, if this thing is well designed and executed we could see a resurgence in the use of ‘watches'.