Wearable Device Now, iWatch Later

John Paczkowski over at Recode is reporting Apple will announce a wearable device in two weeks. Tim Bradshaw over at FT is saying Apple’s new wearable won’t be called iWatch. While things can obviously change, and Apple product naming is notorious for being kept close to one’s chest, both journalists have solid track records.

I have three observations. 

1) No Leaks Suggest Delayed Launch. We have seen no leaks of a new Apple wearable device. While it certainly is possible that Apple doubled down on secrecy, I highly doubt that we would have no leaks of any kind for a brand new product that had entered mass production (2-4 million+ units) weeks ago.  I suspect this new Apple wearable device, if announced in less than two weeks, will not go on sale anytime soon. I still would expect demos to be available at the event as Apple is fully capable of producing a few hundred devices internally. While the new Arizona sapphire plant certainly is intriguing and may play a role with wearables, there would be too many other partners involved in a wearable device for there not to be any leaks.  While I still wrestle with the exact timing of shipping (I fully expect Apple to announce the ship date or at least a somewhat narrow timeframe), I think there is a low probability of an immediate launch.  

2) Sharing the Stage. If Apple introduces a wearable alongside iPhones, I think the “wearable as an iPhone accessory” mantra makes a lot more sense that having a huge iWatch-only event, similar to the first iPad, where a wearable device can stand alone on its own merit and not require another iOS device. If a wearable device requires an iPhone to function, it makes more sense to announce alongside new iPhones.  Over time, I expect wearables to become fully capable of moving beyond accessories, but we are only talking about the first version of a still unannounced product.  

3) iWatch vs. Wearables Category. Apple may view the wearables category as requiring training wheels as consumers may not understand or connect with a full blown “iWatch” right out of the gate, so an in-between wearable device would be required to make the learning curve more manageable.  For example, an iPad introduced in 2005 probably would not have done as well since people wouldn’t have been familiar with a touch interface - not to mention the lack of an app ecosystem.  It is possible Apple will initially sell a wearable device similar to a fitness band, but focused on the much broader and mainstream subject of health, only to expand the lineup in subsequent years with various editions, price points, and styles.  I have a growing suspicion that Apple’s wearables category will not be comprised of just one or two models but an array of devices as wearables will usher the era of fashion into personal technology. Apple’s recent retail hires support my thesis that a new way of thinking is required to sell a range (maybe up to dozens?) of wrist devices.

At this point I expect a “wearable” device to be introduced in two weeks, with the goal of getting users acquainted with this new wearables product category, while the more powerful and much more important “iWatch” is kept for 2015 or later.