Monday, March 4, 2013

iWear


There has been a lot of speculation on the iWatch that Apple is working on.  Analysts are comparing it to the other watches available and are peering deep into the watch industry for insights on the market, revenues and margins.  What everyone should realize is that the iWatch (or whatever Apple chooses to call it.  In fact, I would call it iWear) is just another wearable computing device.  I don’t consider it to be a watch.  I hope it is much more than a watch.

Let me talk a little bit about watches.

A watch, per Wikipedia, is a device that tells time.  It is a timepiece.  It is generally worn around the wrist or attached to a chain and carried in the pocket.  Traditionally, watches have been either manual or automatic (driven by kinetic movement).  These watches have slowly progressed from just telling the time to being a calendar and then being a stopwatch.  These additional behaviors are called 'complications'.  There are a few automatic watches that perform the function of an alarm clock too!   There are smart watches (not in the computer smart terms), which understand the variation of days in a month (yearly calendar watches) and there are those which can even compensate for the leap year (perpetual calendar watches).  There are watches for the blind.The video below shows a Patek Philippe watch with a chime!


These are mechanical marvels driven by just a flywheel that charges one or more springs either based on manual winding or the kinetic movement of the wearer’s hand (or the winding machine).

Then came the era of electronic quartz watches.  These were powered by small batteries and were completely electronic.  Quartz crystals, by their nature are very accurate leading to extremely accurate watches.  Additionally, the electronics afforded designers to add additional functionality into the watches.  These watches had lights to see at night, multiple time zones, stop clock, alarm, and other features.  And, there are the techy watches which need a degree in computer science to tell the time.  The quartz electronic watches were also fashionable since they were tiny and could be fashioned into any shape and size.

There have been several watchmakers who are trying to reinvent the timepiece.  Urwerk is a classic example making high end watches that beat the conventional wisdom.

The watch market is a thriving market.  There are people who buy one watch to tell time.  There is a segment of the market where watches are akin to jewelry.  They buy several; one for the office, one for sports, one for the evening party, one for the black tie event, etc.  There is another segment that just buys watches just to collect them.  I belong to this segment.  I guess we haven’t heard the Confucius saying ‘Man with one watch always knows what time it is.  Man with two, never sure.’  The watch market is huge.

I have always wondered about one thing.  Whenever I walk into a meeting, I look around to notice what watch everyone is wearing.  I am sure anyone who is interested in watches would do the same.  I have never, let me say it again, never been in a room (full of people) where I saw two people wearing the same brand/model of watch.  There have been some rare occasions where two people were wearing the same brand, but never the same model.  That itself shows you the market for the variety of watches.  The global watch market is about $60 billion a year with a margin of around 60%.  Everyone is looking into the watch market and wondering how Apple will disrupt it. 

If Apple is targeting the watch market, it is looking in the wrong direction.  Apple should be looking at something that is much more than the watch market.  In fact, when Apple releases their iWear, people should buy it, and still be buying/wearing watches. 

The point I am trying to make is that Apple should not be getting into the watch business.  The watch industry will thrive by itself, and there are many disruptors around.  All phones have a timepiece functionality built into them.  The phone industry has had incredible penetration in the past decade.  Did it affect the watch industry?  Nope.  People still wear watches.  Quartz watches came and kicked the traditional mechanical watch’s butt.  But, I still buy mechanical (manual winding as well as automatic) watches!  My computer has a very accurate clock.  My cell phone has an incredible clock which automatically adjusts to the timezone I am in.  Still, I wear my automatic wristwatch which loses about a few secs a week (which, by the way, is pretty bad).  Why do I still wear it?  It is a part of my attire.  One reason may be that I love the mechanical marvels (automatic watches) and want one ticking away on my wrist.  I have not seen people ditch watches in droves since they are carrying their cellphones with them. 

Apple should be getting into the wearable computer industry.  We do ‘wear’ our cellphones, but there is a huge difference between carrying a device and wearing one close to your body, close to millions if not billions of interface points (skin cells, veins, etc.) to a human body.  This affords incredible opportunities in various areas of which telling time is the least important one. 

With a computer strapped onto my wrist, the device can be:
  • a health monitor (heart rate, temperature, etc.)
  • a pedometer
  • an alarm
  • a safety monitor
  • a tracker
  • a phone
  • a camera
  • a music player
  • a video player
  • a device to inject medicine based on a schedule
  • a GPS
  • an internet browser
  • a calendar
  • a timepiece
You get the drift.  It can be anything.  As long as you are wearing a computer on your body, there is no limit to what it can do.  That is where Apple should be heading.  Apple should build an ecosystem around this wearable computing device in the same way it built an ecosystem around iPod with its iTunes store.  This will afford incredible opportunities for smart entrepreneurs to innovate and bring great applications to life.

I am excited for Apple and am ready to pounce on this opportunity.

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