It was wearable tech, not the usual smartphones, that dominated the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Sony’s SmartBand, with its detailed life-logging capabilities, made an appearance, as did Samsung’s two smartwatches, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. Motorola announced its plants to develop a smartwatch, and HTC expressed similar intentions. But the dominant player in mobile technology — the company that launched the mobile revolution with the iPhone in 2007 — has shed no light on its intentions. All that is known of Apple’s plans for wearable tech, a device nicknamed the iWatch, can be labeled a rumor. Still, rumors are abounding.
Apple plans for the device to allow a wider variety of people to engage with health monitoring rather than the small, data-obsessed demographic that typically uses such devices now. Given the prevalence of Apple’s smartphones and tablets, the large number of people already engaged with Apple’s interface, and the company’s success at making its devices intuitive and easy to use, it is likely that Apple will make health monitoring popular with the wider public. While Apple watchers do not expect the company’s intended uses for the iWatch to require approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Siri will have to be greatly altered.
Apple engineers are reportedly redesigning Siri so that the iOS voice-driven personal assistant can be integrated with third-party applications, a change that AppleInsider called “an improvement in services.” This latest rumor is courtesy of an article published Monday by tech blog The Information, which not only noted that this update will allow Siri to perform more advanced functions like book a hotel reservation, but that such an advancement is likely a necessity for the development of the iWatch.
“The technology being developed at Apple can also be applied to determine what app to show a user when they have limited screen space, as they would when using a smartwatch the company has been developing, according to people familiar with the effort,” noted the article. “If a user starts running, for example, Siri might show them a fitness app that could help them track their workout while moving other apps into the background.”
Of course, a wearable device would depend heavily on voice commands, and the fact that Apple is pushing to make its voice-driven personal assistant more advanced seems to support the development of the rumored iWatch. The Information’s Amir Efrati wrote on Wednesday that “as Apple, Google, Microsoft and others race to build powerful voice-driven search capabilities for mobile devices, they’re zeroing in on a surprisingly thorny problem: enabling people to access the content and capabilities of mobile apps in their searches.” It is easy for a personal assistant like Siri to find a number in a contact list and dial it, but to find a hotel and make a reservation through a third-party application is far more complicated.
Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty has calculated that first-year sales estimates for the iWatch could beat the iPad’s debut sales of $12 billion. Her figure is based on zero supply chain constraints and a debut price tag of $299, but even if the company were to suffer supply chain constraints, she said the smartwatch is still likely to bring in between $10 billion and $14 billion in its first year. Her confidence in the device’s ability to generate strong sales stems from the fact that the iWatch will be both positioned and marketed as a “natural accessory” to Apple’s other iOS devices, instead of debuting in a completely new product category.
Apple may have not made any official announcements regarding the development of a wearable device, but the company has filed for ownership of the “iWatch” trademark in a number of countries in 2013.