Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Watch Out Apple, It's Google's Time

Apple has been rumoured to be working on a smart watch for some time and some folk have given up waiting for the Cupertino company to produce such a device by making their own by strapping an iPod nano to their wrists.

Of course there are others who have been looking at building a smart watch, and some have succeeded.  You may have seen my posting on the Casio G-Shock Android phone from January 2012.  As I said at the time, I'm intrigued by the possibility of a mobile phone on my wrist, for several good reasons.  For one, I'm forever missing calls and texts on both of the phones I carry - I know, it's a modern burden that we carry all of these things around and yet I still miss the call.  It's because I tend to leave both phones on silent as it's considered bad form to have them ring in meetings and for some reason the vibrate mode doesn't always get my attention.

But it's not just the chance of realising when someone is trying to contact me, it's the fact that from the get-go my smart watch will always be within arm's reach - literally.  I'm a little too fond of laying my mobile phone on my desk next to my keyboard and then wandering off without it.  It's also a little obvious if I'm checking my emails or the progress of the blog in work, so having it on my wrist would make that a little more discrete.

I don't think smart phones will replace mini tablets for net surfing, but a simple Google search should be possible on the hoof, or at least off the cuff, and I've recently started forwarding the main appointments in my Outlook diary to my Google mail account, so that they are embedded in my Nexus tablet and HTC mobile phone calendars, so I can brace for the day's main tasks off-line.  However, once in work I tend to leave my Nexus on my desk awaiting lunch break when I read the latest eBooks I've downloaded and I've already mentioned I miss virtually all the alerts on my phone, so having something on my wrist that vibrates, flashes on and off and scrolls a message to let me know I should be leaving for a meeting would be a great help.

And although I'm a little cautious about making and receiving phone calls while driving, get the microphone settings right for - ahem - hands free, then taking a call when en route should be a real bonus.  Of course, I'm a Brit so using a manual stick with the left hand might mean I have to change the arm to wear my watch on.  Or gear changes might need to be coordinated with the flow of conversation.

So Apple are planning a smart watch that will, of course, double as a phone, an iPod, a browser and a latte dispenser no doubt, and we know this because they've leaked it.  But leaking a concept and producing it can be two different beasts, especially with a company like Apple which tends to hold its best product releases very close to its virtual chest.  In fact, the fact that they have allowed the idea to leak indicates that they aren't actually that far down the development road, but perhaps want to find out what the demand might be.  Because the downside of the smart watch is the size - make it big enough to do all the things we would like and it will become intrusive on the arm, or make it small enough to look like a piece of tech jewellery and the only function it is likely to perform adequately is telling the time.  And it won't have bypassed 'form and function' gurus Apple that there are suitable devices that do that already.

Now it turns out that Google have leaked hints that they are working on a smart watch design.  The Nexus 1 maybe?  It makes sense; Apple have proven the benefit of the holistic approach to devices - how many people do you know have an iPhone, an iPad and maybe an Apple Touch?  I reckon that few have just the one Apple device.  Now Google have the Nexus 4, 7 and 10, with the number relating to the screen size, so the idea of the Nexus 1 (or 2 - flip the watch on its side then you have a usable landscape screen for all the uses I mentioned earlier plus maybe the holiday snaps).  Because you have a Google mail account you can link items like your calendar together across all of your Nexus devices.  If Google, or Apple perhaps, can work out how to share your phone sim so that you can still use your mobile and your smart watch using the same phone number then we're on a winner here.

Apple might be playing around with the concept, but given their ongoing competitiveness with Google my guess is that they will either put the iWatch on fast track development or they'll call time on the project.  Personally, I think this is a development whose hour has come, I just hope it doesn't cost an arm and a leg - well an arm at least.  Come on Apple and Google - the clock's ticking.


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