As I mentioned in yesterday’s Apple introduction event coverage, iPhones weren't the only thing that Apple unveiled. Confirming one of the worst kept secrets in the technology industry in recent memory, the company became the latest (and undoubtedly not the last… I'm looking at you, Microsoft) to unveil a “smart watch” wearable. Apparently, Tim Cook's not as fond of lowercase vowels as was his predecessor, Steve Jobs, because the Apple Watch is missing the “i” that was expected at the beginning of the product name. And speaking of Steve Jobs, the Apple Watch has apparently been under development since shortly after his passing nearly three years ago.
As I fast forwarded through the video archive, I was struck first by the long-term wisdom that the (currently) spec-deficient S1 SoC powering the Apple Watch signifies. Although the upfront investment to transform an ARM instruction set license into a custom silicon implementation (as Qualcomm does with its Snapdragon application processors) was substantial, its dividends were obvious to me even when the Apple-developed chips ran only in iPhones and iPads (control, no need to pay a silicon supplier “middleman”, etc). Now, however, Apple's ability to expand that same instruction set license into brand new product categories in wearables has emerged. In saying this, I'm assuming that the “S1” is ARM-based… I suspect that's a fairly safe guess. Regardless, by leveraging its own SoCs, Apple's able to differentiate itself from a horde of competitors using the same fundamental silicon foundation and in some cases relying on several-years-old IC technology.
The flurry of smart watch announcements in recent weeks from LG, Motorola, Samsung, and others had been viewed as a proactive reaction to a presumed Apple announcement to follow. But frankly, having now seen how little Apple revealed about its Watch and how little it let the press play unscripted with them, I wonder if the opposite might have been the case. Was the Apple Watch a last-second “one more thing” addition to the program as a means of blunting the advance of Google’s Android Wear army? Apple's products won't begin to ship until “early 2015,” after all. The hardware seems relatively stable, but the software is apparently still quite fragile and otherwise undeveloped. And, by the way, pricing is currently set to begin at $350. Apple's longstanding per-unit-profit-vs-high-volume strategy seems to still be very much in place.
Unlike many of its competitors, the Apple Watch wearable must be wirelessly tethered to a companion iPhone in order to fully implement the bulk of its “smart” capabilities. The resultant “lock-in” and expansion to the broader Apple ecosystem for watch owners is perhaps obvious. Less cynically, I'm equally impressed with the “community” capabilities that this early glimpse into Apple Watch revealed. You can sketch, tap, and otherwise swap messages, pictures, and other information with other Apple Watch owners, for example. I somehow doubt that Apple will be developing an “app for that” on Android. And speaking of usage models, if I were a standalone fitness band manufacturer, I'd be pretty worried about the long-term functional integration-into-watch trend right about now.
For the rest of the story, see EBN sister site EDN.