On Apple and Wearables

Reinventing another product category

Apple will launch the new iPhone very soon, maybe two models with different screen size and specs. This is based on lots of rumors neatly summarized here, ultimately saying the unveiling will be scheduled for September 9, 2014, so three weeks from now. We, as tech enthusiasts and gadget lovers do, are accustomed to the release of the new model and know it happens every year, as soon as the fall is approaching.

It is a matter of fact that Apple, as stated in their always evolving press releases, reinvented the mobile phone with the revolutionary iPhone, because of its simplicity and design choices made by the Cupertino team. Every once in a while I rewatch that awesome 2007 keynote, which ensembles the core of Apple and Steve Jobs philosophy and work style, later described as at the intersection of technology and arts.

Nowadays, given that background and expectations it set for the audience and also the mass market, it’s a rarity to be emotionally touched by product presentation keynotes, even if they are made by Apple marketing geniuses. Everybody’s expectations are high given that the competition is really tough, if not brutal. Google with its ecosystem and the Android platform is on par with Apple and they also offer some sort of freedom to the geeks. Windows Phone is a bit later in the game but it has the opportunity to grow with the new leadership of Satya Nadella, pretty different from its predecessor Steve Ballmer.

But the reality is that devices of that type are limited in what they can achieve for us. Initially the main point of them was to be able to phone, send and receive email and sms, browse the web and navigate safely via the integrated maps. Then it came the App Store, the best crucial invention for every developer out there, and one of the first reason of the iPhone tremendous success. It allowed for the development of every possible idea and scenario, because now there is at least an app for everything (as this commercial explains perfectly), and most of the time it’s also a quality one. The price of those apps may vary but it’s nearly always a race to the bottom. Hence the difficult path great indie developers encounter trying to monetize their apps and reward their jobs and keep their business sustainable.

The new factor in the mobile industry could be wearables, if only we knew how they could improve and simplify our lives more than we do now.

The first notable one has been the Pebble watch, launched publicly in June 2013. I actually own one, the Kickstarter edition to be precise, and it is really a useful device… sometimes. I find it convenient when I am working and I have my phone somewhere on the desk and I receive calls or text messages. Without reaching the phone itself and avoiding to bother my colleagues with obscure ringtones (I leave it silenced in most places) I know if someone needs me. But other than that, having a lot of notifications on my wrist without being able to interact in some ways with them is very annoying. So I often leave it at home or maybe I forget to recharge it because I don’t see a particular benefit of wearing it all the time. New versions of Pebble released this year slightly improve the overall experience, also thanks to the debut of the Pebble Store. Honestly I didn’t try the Samsung Galaxy Gear or any of its successors but others did.

This summer featured also the release of Android Wear, with the LG Watch launching immediately and the Moto360 to follow in early September. You basically have Google Now on your wrist and can do some sort of interaction with your notifications, using the “Ok Google” keywords to asks for weather, scores and other little things. But at this time I don’t see myself staring at my watch everytime for every notification. I want something that alerts me when I really need it. And to keep me wearing it all the time it should be a fashion champ.

In short this September I think Apple could pave the way to a later release of their “wear thing”, being it a watch, a band, a ring or whatever. They have the knowledge, the talent and the opportunity to bring together the iPhone, the iPad and the new device to start a new tech trend people don’t see so useful right now. They need to do what we know they are capable of and make these devices interact with each other seamlessly and in the most polished way, as can be seen for example in the continuity feature of the upcoming iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. And they have to give us the perfect balance of utility, portability and wearing fashion, even to make us willing to pay a premium price, if strictly necessary.

This could be summed up with a single phrase: Apple, enrich our lives, again.

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