A couple of my colleagues are visiting Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas at the moment. CES is the technology event of the year. The tradeshow takes place every January, and it's where everyone (except for Apple) shows off the products that they think will make a mark this year.
This year one of the dominating forces at the show is wearable technology. It certainly seems that 2014 will be a big year for wearable tech and all the rumours are pointing to the launch of Apple's iWatch this year.
I just can't summon up the enthusiasm for these devices though. What's the point of a smartwatch? I've got a watch; it tells the time and looks nice. What more do I need it to do?
Another second form of wearable tech, activity monitors, are becoming popular, but how many are used beyond the first month after the novelty has worn off.
I can see the value in health monitors - accessories to help diabetics track their insulin levels via an app on their iPhone, for example. But that's not something for the mass market.
The key issue I have with the idea of these wearable devices is that, presumably, you will need to carry it in addition to your iPhone. We are a long way from fitting all the necessary power and capacity into something the size of a watch, so it's likely that your iPhone will provide the brain for your wearable gadget.
This means that whether it's on your wrist, clipped to your waste band, or worn on your face (like Google Glass) you will still have an extra accessory to carry around. Right now we just get our iPhone out of our pocket when we need it, why would we look at our wrist instead?
What can a wearable device offer that the iPhone can't?
An iWatch might make is slightly easier to follow instructions in Maps when you are walking around the city. Perhaps a device strapped to your wrist would be less of a draw to criminals who might swipe an iPhone from your hand?
However, if this was a major problem more of us would be wearing wireless earpieces and listen to the instructions coming from Apple or Google Maps with our iPhones safe in our pocket. Speaking of wireless earpieces, the people who wear them are often the butt of jokes and it's entirely plausible that the Google Glass wearers of the world may well attract the same derisive attention.
Staring into your watch while you talk to a friend via FaceTime might make you feel like you are in a sci-fi movie, or a 1960s episode of Star Trek, but you can already talk to your friend using FaceTime on your iPhone - and yet it's still not the most popular way of placing a call.
How about taking a photograph with the watch strapped to your wrist as Kevin Bacon does in the latest EE ad. I just can't see it. You have your iPhone in your pocket - use that. The picture will be better quality, and framing the shot will be a whole lot easier.
Alarms, iMessages, Twitter, Facebook, weather reports, and so on: these are all thing you can get from the iPhone in your pocket and the Mac in front of your face. Why push them to your watch?
That leaves us with a few things that your iPhone can't do. Basically the activity monitoring that the mass of gadgets that hit the market over the last 12 months do. Why doesn't the iPhone do this too? Mainly because of the battery life required for your phone to be constantly monitoring what you are doing. Apple's most recently answer to this issue was the M7 chip in the iPhone 5s.
Apple's M7 chip and wearable tech
Apple's M7 coprocessor takes some of the workload away from the iPhone's CPU reducing battery demands. The iPhone can't yet monitor your activity in the way that these dedicated activity monitors (such as those from FitBit) but it certainly appears to be moving in that direction with the introduction of the M7.
The thing that really gets me about this idea of a smaller device is that at the same time there are calls for a bigger iPhone. It seems to me that everyone is getting a little carried away with calls for Apple to reinvent categories without anyone actually wanting these new devices everyone thinks the company should make. It reminds me of the fact that Steve Jobs famously didn't listen to focus groups because he thought that we didn't actually know what we really wanted. Perhaps he was right.
Right now I don't think I want an iWatch. However it's possible that what Apple will launch will be beyond anything I can imagine right now. It should be noted that I couldn't see the point in an iPhone before Apple launched that either, so I could be wrong.
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