Wearable technology

In the beginning was Apple. All things were made by it; and without it was not anything made that was made.” If technophiles were to write their own Testament, these might be the opening lines. Apple’s ability to redefine the appeal of whole categories of computing has attracted the unerring faith of millions of followers. Apple has popularized existing technologies four times: with the Macintosh computer in 1984, the iPod in 2001, the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010. Recently the faithful have prayed that Apple will pull it off again with its smartwatch. Many firms already make wrist-based devices that measure sleep patterns and exercise, but so far the category has remained a niche plaything for geeks and athletes.

On March 9th the firm gathered its flock to share details about the Apple Watch, which will go on sale next month. Tim Cook, its boss, called it “the most advanced timepiece ever created”. In addition to tell- ing the time, it can respond to voice commands, measure its wearer’s heart rate, act like a credit card at payment points and provide alerts for incoming calls and e- mails. It can display many of the apps that are popular on smartphones, such as those of social networks, without the hassle of having to pull out a phone.

With prices ranging from $350 to as much as $17,000, the Apple Watch will make the company billions in revenue, al- though analysts have varied expectations for how big the bang will be. In the near future the watch is unlikely to match the success of some of Apple’s other creations, which have been among the best-selling technology products in his- tory. Its battery lasts for just 18 hours before it needs more juice from a magnetic charger. The Apple Watch also needs to be close to an iPhone in order to function, which detracts from its usefulness.

Consumers are prepared to spend reasonable sums for wearables. But even so, their interest in buying them is still some way behind the enthusiasm shown by the many hardware companies investing heavily in designing them. Giants like Samsung, Motorola, Microsoft and Huawei are all developing smartwatches, as are smaller companies like Pebble. Google, which tried to develop a pair of smart specs called Google Glass with limited success, is now focusing on providing the operating system of choice for smartwatches. In wearables it is more likely that companies will make a fortune from the operating system than from selling the hardware.


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