Apple is very likely developing a smartwatch. It will probably be called "iWatch." It will also probably be amazing and could even create a new Apple app ecosystem. You can bet people will camp out for days outside Apple stores to be among the first iWatch owners.
I wouldn’t get out the camping equipment just yet, however.
The iWatch could be released in 2014. But Apple has a clear track record of waiting ever so patiently before capitalizing on new technologies or product categories. The strategy: Let others go first with crude products that consumers find disappointing. Then, having polished the new technology or product until it gleams, Apple makes its move.
(Photo credit: CULTOFMAC.COM)
To get a good read on the future of Apple products, it helps to take a look at the past.
* Laptops with color displays. As inconceivable as it may seem today, early laptops had black and white or grayscale screens. By 1991, color LCD displays, which were a big improvement over earlier efforts, had started becoming more common in laptops. Apple didn’t release a color portable until 1993. Wait time: Two years.
* MP3 players. The first mass-produced MP3 player was Saehan’s MPMan, which was sold in Asia beginning in spring 1998, according to CNET and other sources. A U.S. version was released that summer. Apple’s first iPod debuted in October 2001. Apple procrastination period: Three years.
* Smartphones. IBM’s Simon, released in 1994, is widely considered to be the first device to resemble the gadgets we now call smartphones. Handspring’s Palm Treo, released in 2002, came even closer to today’s smartphones and enjoyed some mainstream success. Apple’s iPhone debuted in 2007. Time lapse: At least five years.
* Tablets. Microsoft introduced its tablet PC platform for businesses in 2001, though there had been other tablet computers released before Microsoft’s. The first iPad was released in April 2010. For tablets, then, Apple waited at least nine years before making its move.
Apple hasn’t always been a tech laggard. But when it’s led the charge into a new product category, the results have often been disappointing.
For example, in 1993, the Newton was among the first commercial PDAs released, beating the Palm Pilot to market by three years. But the Newton’s handwriting recognition received waves of criticism, and Apple, under returning leader Steve Jobs, deep-sixed the Newton OS program in early 1998.
Remember QuickTake, Apple’s digital camera? It was released in 1994 years before such cameras were mainstream. The QuickTake also died a relatively QuickDeath and was dropped in 1997.
The smartwatch market only really got started in 2013. For Apple to release a smartwatch in 2014 would mean the company has only given the market one year before jumping in, which feels way too soon given the examples above. More to the point, the smartwatch technology today is still too unpolished for Apple's tastes. For example, though the Pebble watch has its fans, I returned mine after a few weeks. The OS has too strong a "hackerish" feel for mainstream consumers and the watch requires way too many software updates, among other issues. In short: It’s not ready for prime time. (See my July 2013 post for more.) Consumers haven’t exactly lined up to buy Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, either.
Given Apple’s track record of entering a new product category, then, and the current state of smartwatch technology, I’m doubtful we’ll see an iWatch in 2014. Of course, I could be wrong. Rumors point toward a mid 2014 debut, though at least one Apple supplier said in March 2013 that such a device was at least "three years away."
Apple has a lot to lose from a premature product offering and much to gain by waiting and waiting...and waiting until it gets a new product just right. Meanwhile, consumer desire for, and anticipation of, an iWatch will only build. If there’s one thing Apple has a history of doing beautifully, it’s creating consumer desire and anticipation.