Is the Apple iWatch the next big thing?

After the news leaked out that a new smart watch is under development by Apple, a wide divergence in opinions have been expressed by both fans and critics. The potential future release of an Apple smart watch will either be remembered as a pivotal point in wearable computing, or as a shark-jumping moment for the tech giant.

For those of us who prefer to have a watch instead of using our phone to check the time (full disclosure: I have an iPhone, but I only check the time on my analog pocketwatch), it's hard to imagine a mini-computer taking the place of a watch. But for those of us who like to be on the cutting edge of tech, having a smart watch made by Apple, the king of mobile computing, might just be too much of a temptation to resist.

On the favorable side, the development of a tough, touchable, curved glass to house a smart watch is a big step forward, as current options (Pebble, iPod Nano watch, Cookoo), all rely on fairly flat and clunky display screens. If these new smart watches are basically wristwatch computers, then they need to be comfortable to wear on our wrists, and fit easily under a cuff or glove.

Another big point that Apple has in its favor is their mobile iOS, which integrates almost seamlessly with apps and other devices. In the long run, having a smart watch that can easily expand its functionality through compatible apps would be much more usable than a more basic version, and app developers could begin to extend its reach.

Possible extensions for a smart watch might include biometric sensors for fitness or health tracking/monitoring, use of smart gestures (activating a function through a specific body motion, similar to how Siri gets activated), as a passcode device, use as a controller for games or smart home appliances (thermostat), data gathering for mapping or for athletic performance, as a remote control for the stereo or TV, or use as an MP3 player.

Wirelessly connected devices are fairly well tested, as a quick glance around the local coffee shop may confirm. So having an iWatch that connects via Bluetooth to your iPhone in a pocket or bag is a logical next step for our modern tendency to be hyperconnected. Imagine being able to check text messages, social media updates, emails, or stock prices by just glancing at a watch instead of pulling out your phone. Or being able to stream music from your smart watch to your Bluetooth headphones, while also clocking your morning run with a fitness app. Or perhaps you'd like to take phone calls by talking into your watch, just like Dick Tracy.

Siri seems to be the key component to making an iWatch a reality, as voice control is probably the preferred method for ease of use. Anyone with big fingers that has to type on a small screen will testify that it's a nightmare, so giving users access to Siri's virtual assistance via voice commands will help to solve that. And of course, users with a heavy accent may need to think long and hard about a Siri-dependent device.

The brand cachet itself might be enough to draw quite a few fans to stand in line to get the first iteration of an Apple smart watch, just as they did with all of the previous iPhone and iPad releases, but to be able to attract and keep potential smart watch buyers, the company will also need to address the weak points of such a device, such as battery life.

One big issue for a smart watch is packing enough processing power and screen resolution into a device small enough to wear on the wrist, while also supplying enough power so that it doesn't have to be plugged into a charger every day. That's a tough obstacle to overcome, but advances in smaller and faster chips, in converting kinetic energy into power, as well as innovations in wireless charging technology, may help solve those issues.

Another tech issue or decision may arise with the launch of an iWatch, similar to the difference in available iPad versions. If the basic smart watch is Bluetooth only, meaning you'd need to already have an iPhone to use it, then it's only an added Apple accessory for current fans, not really a wearable computer on its own. But if there was an option for a standalone iWatch that connected independently, via a data network, and a version with a lot more storage space for music or documents, then the door has just opened for a whole new kind of device - a true wristwatch computer phone.

But with the team of 100 people reportedly working at Apple on the project, chances are we'll see a steady stream of leaks of developments, guesses as to design, and plenty more speculation on the tech capabilities of an iWatch, but no hard dates for release.

On the one hand (the tech and gadget loving hand), I really can't wait to see how the Apple smart watch plays out, but on the other hand (the treehugging and eco-friendly hand), I cringe when I think about its impact on our growing mountains of ewaste and the increased demand for conflict minerals once this new gadget hits the mainstream.

What do you think? Would a smart watch like this one be useful to you, or just another gadget you need to keep up with the Jones'?

[Concept image from ADR Studio]

Is the Apple iWatch the next big thing?
The indication that Apple is pursuing the next generation of smart watches has lead to plenty of speculation about the problems and opportunities for such a device.

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