Wrapping the future around your wrist

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Okay, I think I've got a sense of what Apple might do for an iWatch. This has taken me a while. But, now we've seen a majority of the smartwatches other companies like Samsung, LG, Pebble and Basis have put out. And, Apple's most recent major hire is a dead giveaway.

The recent Android-based smartwatches are most interesting here, but they are all clunky, notification-based and meant for a male wrist. None of them would tempt a non-nerd, non-watch-wearing consumer to change their habits. The Moto 360, with its round face comes closest, but it has the thickish, oversized look of geek apparel.

On the fitness side, Jawbone, Shine and Fitbit have compelling products, but none replace a watch, they just occupy the other wrist.

And we've also got a sense, from its hires and ads, about where Apple's interests lie. Clearly biometrics are important, as the recent announcement of the Healthkit app, the recent "Powerful" ads series and the hiring of medical experts on biometric measurement demonstrate.

But, most interesting was the announcement this week that Apple is now the employer of Patrick Pruniaux, formerly Tag Heuer's vice-president of sales and retail. It seems clear that Pruniaux will help launch the iWatch.

And, before Pruniaux, Apple snagged Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry, to head up its retail division. Ahrendts turned around the fortunes of the formerly stuffy Burberry by engineering a shift into upmarket and trendy.

And, here's the final piece of the puzzle for me: Jony Ive and his love of miniaturization, Swiss watches and precision metal-machining.

I've just finished reading Leander Kahney's biography, Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products. It's clear that Ive loves the challenge of getting technology into the smallest possible space. And, his position at Apple, even after Steve Job's death, is such that he can push the company's engineers to breaking and beyond to serve design.

He was also the champion of making use of computer numerical control (CNC) milling machines to carve complex housing for iPhones and Macbooks out of single slabs of aluminium. It was a "unibody" technique he perfected after observing how high-end Swiss watch manufacturers used it to produce precision casings for their exquisitely detailed, limited-edition chronometers. You know, companies like Tag Heuer.

So, here's my theory. In order for Apple to seriously consider making an iWatch, it would need to be the same kind of product the Macintosh, the iPod and the iPhone were -- category changers. None of the existing smartwatches come near that. They don't reimagine the watch, and they aren't fashionable enough to appeal to a broad group of users.

I think the iWatch will be. I am hopeful that the iWatch will become as revolutionary as the iPhone. I think with Ive's design genius, the deep, cross-device integration now possible in iOS and the advances in chip fabrication, battery life and CNC milling, Ahrendts' retail smarts and Pruniaux's ability to sell high-end fashion masterpieces, we will see the birth of a beautiful wrist computer. It will be both a biometric miracle and a piece of jewelry men and women will covet. It might be to the iPhone what the iPhone was to the laptop.

And, I can't imagine it being a single device. I think we should think instead of a line of Apple iWatches, of different sizes, features and casings. Watches that will give both Swatch and Tag Heurer a run for their money.

I could be totally wrong, but my gut sense tells me Apple plans to knock this out of the park. If they do Samsung, Motorola and Google will all look like punters who reached for the early geek win instead of taking hold of the general public's wrist and wrapping the future around it.

Listen to an audio version of this column, read by the author, below.


Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for rabble.ca on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns/flickr

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