Understanding Apple’s Wearable Strategy

by Tim Bajarin   |   June 27th, 2014

Someone who I believe has a good sense of Apple’s thinking about wearables told me some months ago that if I wanted to understand part of Apple’s wearable strategy I needed to go to Disney World. When I was at Disney World in Orlando recently, I tried to get a sense of what this person was talking about. While I had a great time with the family, I also spent quite a bit of time checking out the ID band technology Disney is using that is revolutionary for theme parks. I see now the most likely concept behind it represents one of the three key pillars of Apple’s future wearable device strategy.

When we arranged our Disney World vacation, booked our hotel on their property and bought our Disney World park passes, we had to register so we could use their wrist band ID program. That process included connecting the band to a master credit card we would use at the various parks. We had to enter a PIN number to use the bands at shops and restaurants. We also used them to get into our rooms instead of using key cards. Two weeks before we left for vacation, the individual wrist bands with our specific IDs came to the house.

The wrist bands themselves use RFID radios for communicating with door locks, restaurant terminals, park entrance gates, etc. The first time we entered one of the parks, we had to sync our bands to a fingerprint reader for double authentication and we used the band and fingerprint reader every time we entered the parks. When we wanted to use them at kiosks or any restaurants on the Disney properties, we used the band and a PIN number to pay for meals. We also used them to sign up for Fast Passes for rides and touched them to the Fast Pass terminal when we went to go on these rides. Bottom line is these bands were ultra convenient and worked flawlessly.

Since this was a major vacation for us, we also bought the Disney Memories picture package. When a park photographer took our photos, we would just have them “scan” one of our bands and they were instantly uploaded to our special Disney Picture site where we could download them at will. But these RFID bands also had proximity features so when we were on a ride like Splash Mountain where they take a picture of you as you start the downward slide, it automatically sensed from our bands we were on the ride and that picture was automatically sent to our Disney picture site as well.

We were told Disney spent over $1 billion dollars on the bands and infrastructure technology. It is deployed through all of their 47 acres in every one of their hotels, restaurants, parks and rides. At the moment, it is only available to those with Disney property packages but I understand they are looking at eventually using these bands for everyone coming to the parks in time.

As you know, Apple and Disney are very tight. Disney’s CEO Bob Iger sits on Apple’s board and Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell, sits on Disney’s board. There is no question in my mind Apple has gone to school on this band ID concept and we can expect this to be one of the key pillars of any wearable device Apple may some day bring to market. Although the rumors are of Apple doing an iWatch, I think that design idea is actually too limited. One design might be an ID band that might look more like a Nike Fuelband that tells time as well as counts steps and calories, but an additional feature would be as a wearable ID device and work much like Disney’s band. They could also do something like an iWatch that has a big screen and be feature rich. I imagine a band could be perhaps $99 while an iWatch, depending on memory and features, would be much higher.

Mobile Identity

I actually think the ID aspect of any wearable Apple brings out is probably central to its future functionality. This is speculative on my part but, after using the Disney band for seven days and seeing its incredible functionality, Apple has to be crazy not to make this part of any of their wearables. The ramifications for Apple’s future with this one ID implementation alone could make it a huge hit. Imagine going into a Starbucks and just touching your iWatch or iBand to the terminal, entering a PIN number and it is charged to your Apple account. Or to enter your house, you just touch the Apple wearable and enter a PIN number and your are in. Yes, you can do this with an iPhone now but that means taking it out of your pocket or purse and it is only single authentication at present. In a wearable, it is much easier to use for entering the home and for all types of interactions and transactions. Its convenience factor would be very compelling. I believe something like this would be very “sticky” and keep users of these tied closer to Apple’s ecosystem.

Apple also has the fingerprint reader that would bring even greater levels of security to any wearable. While using a PIN number for part of any dual authentication is acceptable, a fingerprint reader on transaction terminals and tied to door locks and other devices could provide the even better security people will demand if using a wearable since, like smartphones, these device could be stolen or lost. Being tied to a fingerprint for authentication would be critical to the acceptance of a wearable for these types of functions.

Apple would probably have to create something like HomeKit and HealthKit for commerce related transactions so those who make these transaction terminals can fine tune them for an Apple ID iBand or iWatch. This part of the concept would be the more difficult aspect to pull off since stores, restaurants or anyone doing a financial transaction may need to have new equipment to support this functionality.

Body

The second pillar I see as part of their wearable strategy is tied to HealthKit. This would allow these watches and bands to handle all types of health related monitoring and provide valuable health data to users and their health care providers. But unlike the basic health related functions in today’s health wearables, it is clear from Apple’s Healthkit that, over time, 3rd party vendors now have a platform for delivering much greater health monitoring features that can be embedded or uploaded to an Apple wearable as well as their iPhones. I have multiple health apps on my iPhone now but on a wearable, they would deliver much more precise data capture capabilities and be much easier to use for these purposes.

Home

The third pillar would be tied to HomeKit and applications created using it. As Tim Cook stated in his WWDC keynote, we will someday be able to tell our phones or tablets we are going to bed — it would turn out the lights, adjust the thermostat, lock the doors, and set the alarm. However, I could see Apple also adding this feature to an iWatch or iBand using proximity sensors to do the same thing — perhaps even faster. I personally would prefer having dual authentication on a digital door lock. The models out today that work with iPhones just take a wireless signal scan from the iPhone when it’s waved in front of it. But by adding a fingerprint reader to these locks, they would add a second, more secure form of authentication to an iPhone, iBand or iWatch when waved in from of them to unlock the doors to your home or office.

I believe when and if Apple does launch an iWatch or iBand or what ever form of wearables they bring to market, they will initially lead with the health and home automation apps first and over time add the ID features. As you can imagine, using an iWatch or iBand for ID that can be used to do transactions, lock doors and even handle proximity functions could be controversial without them first convincing people they can trust them even more than they already do today. That could take some time.

Any seasoned Apple watcher has to marvel at the overall technology platforms Apple has been creating for their devices that include new ways to use wireless technology, fingerprint readers, sensors, etc. It all seem to be laying the groundwork for many new types of products. While wearables may be Apple’s next disruptive technology that will help expand our digital worlds, who knows what else Apple has in store that will take advantage of these rich platform architectures over time.

In the end, I believe this element for use as a Personal Digital ID that can be tied to all types of applications may be the killer app for all of Apple’s wearable devices. Combine these three pillars together and I believe they could make up the feature set of an iWatch and/or iBand. This clearly could entice hundreds of millions of new users to Apple’s broader platform of devices and really change the way we interact with our bodies, homes and retail establishments in the future.

Everything I suggest in this column is my speculation on what I believe Apple may bring to market in a wearable. I have no knowledge of what they are doing but have been carefully studying the tea leaves around Apple’s current software and architectural moves and I suggest this could be the underlying applications of any wearable product Apple could do in the future.

If so, I believe Apple could have their next big hit on their hands and add a great deal of new customers to the Apple ecosystem.

For deeper analysis see our members only article: The next Era of Mobile Identity

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Oransky

    A superb and well-reasoned analysis. You demonstrate a clear awareness of the facts that are already at hand, and show us why you’ve earned a reputation as a futurist. Nice job!

  • Space Gorilla

    I agree, the iBracelet is going to be our ID and it will tie the Apple Network of Things together very nicely.

    • DrewBear2

      I agree identity will be key. It’s something existing smartwatches don’t (can’t?) address. But no chance they’re calling it a bracelet.

      • Space Gorilla

        Yeah, the word ‘bracelet’ doesn’t make the cut. They might just go with iWatch, even if it’s mostly about ID and sensors. The iPhone isn’t a phone after all, it’s just an easy way to communicate the idea of the product to consumers.

  • Rene Stein

    Do you think that your Disneyland experience could be recreated with an “iWatch” and iBeacons? For instance, you go to Disneyland, you download the Disney app to your watch and you don’t need a Disney pass, everything goes through the watch. I don’t think major corporations are willing to give 30% to Apple on purchases of goods like concessions, so, something is going to have to change.

    • mjtomlin

      Not sure where this 30% comes in? Apple only charges 30% when something is sold through their digital stores.

    • pk_de_cville

      “I don’t think major corporations are willing to give 30% to Apple on purchases of goods like concessions.”

      They don’t and won’t. 30% comes off of apps, music, books.

      PassBook (and coming iWallet) doesn’t work this way at all.

  • Kenny

    the idea of iBracelet or Iband sounds very gimmick for a company who just want to make money selling stuff to his fan base.

    we need a real watch with smart capability, not some Band or Bracelet that only a IFan idiot will go crazy over

    • FalKirk

      Criticism can be instructive, in that it gives some information about the critic’s intelligence. ~ Vladimir Nabokov

      • Joe_Winfield_IL

        The quote machine strikes again!

      • Kenny

        Maybe you need to explain to me the real value to pay a lot of money for a IBand or a iBracelet that can do the same things as your phone other than the creation of a new category of products just for the sake of selling Stuffs

        The good thing about a SmartWatch in my opinion is the fact that it can expand the capabilities and the work to do be done of a watch to new frontier for those who love watches foremost just as Smart phone vs Feature phone therefore, it must be a stylish watch before anything else, not some gimmick band for IFan to salivate about.

        • Joe_Winfield_IL

          Did you read the article? It’s 1500+ words, chock full of use cases. What’s the difference between a watch and a bracelet? A display? Isn’t it possible for the company to make both? They can also enhance the experience with sensors on future phones, headphones, glasses, shoes, etc. This article is one man’s opinion on what Apple MAY do.

          Also, “stylish” is one of the most subjective words in the English language – how do you see Apple (or anyone for that matter) meeting your expectations of appearance at the same time as everyone else’s?

          • Kenny

            there is a big difference in adding smart capability to an existing product as Watch, than create a new solution in search of a problem as the article described.

            The Moto 360 look almost exactly as my exiting watch but with a lot a new capability and sensor that can do wonder in the Future and i expect something similar from Apple

            i want my Watch to become Smart
            i don’t wanna be Fool into buying a Band in the name of SmartWatch via Marketing Hype

          • Joe_Winfield_IL

            Why do you have to keep using words like fool and hype, gimmick and idiot?

            Your argument (please reread what you just wrote) could be applied to the famous Henry Ford quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” You are suggesting that adding functions to an existing product is categorically better than a new product. This is, frankly, very hard for me to swallow. Why invent television when we already had theaters for movies and radio for homes? Why invent a jet engine when propellers can get a plane in the air?

            If you’re happy with the Moto 360, I’m glad to hear it. Sounds like you don’t need another smart watch though! So why are you even bothering to waste energy arguing against a hypothetical vision of an unannounced product?

          • Kenny

            You miss my point
            Im not again creating new categories of products or adding smart capability to existing product, it all about the Job to be done and the usefulness relative to the cost of the product.

            what im against is the idea of company creating gimmick product left right just for the sake of selling new stuffs through marketing Hype like the article suggested which is exactly what Samsung love to do

          • Joe_Winfield_IL

            Did you read the same article I did? I didn’t see anything at all about marketing, and I read it twice. A band without display uses much less power and is much less fragile. It is also more universal, where a watch needs to match personal tastes. As a result, Apple could sell more of them for a lower price, and with MUCH longer battery life. All of these attributes are positives for a new product category which will need massive scale to hit critical mass with third-parties. Apple will want to sell hundreds of millions of these things so that:

            -hotels will be able to justify investment in new lock hardware so guests can bypass check in.
            -merchants will replace existing payment terminals with new compatible ones
            -doctors will standardize medical records in a HealthKit compatible format
            -thousands of developers will create great new applications
            -public transportation in major cities will allow payment with iBand
            -bars/concerts/stadiums will be able to verify age before serving alcohol

            These are just a handful of uses off the top of my head that weren’t specifically mentioned in the article. All of these are really cool, none of them require a watch face, and all of them require massive user adoption to gain any traction at all.

          • Kenny

            All of this use cases sounds Good in theory but are far away from reality

            if you knew about the Hotel, Healthcare, transportation, and the payment industry you would know that none of this great idea will happen in the near future unless to think that these industry will spend a lot of money to change their infrastructure just to help Apple sell some IBracelet

            something they haven’t been able to do with the cable industry

          • Joe_Winfield_IL

            The first step toward that reality is a viable product. A $400 watch with short battery life is likely not that product.

            The cable industry sees Apple as a terrifying competitive threat. And it is a very complicated web of problems. Content creators, television networks, ISPs, cable TV distributors, all have varied interests. Contracts are staggered, everyone is currently making money, and there is ample growth ahead without Apple.

            By contrast, wearable use cases:

            A) lower cost to serve over time
            B) surprise and delight customers
            C) add radically new functionality
            D) potentially save lives

            Apple is not a threat to Hilton’s hospitality business. They are not a threat to Mastercard’s business. Or Starbucks, the NY Yankees, a local restaurant, etc. See the difference? They aren’t going to change to help Apple; Apple is going to create an incentive for them to change for their own benefit.

          • Kenny

            is not about threat rather spending money to upgrade an existing infrastructure that is not broken and all the regulation involve

            why would these industry mess around with their infrastructure for Apple and their IBracelet gimmick

          • mjtomlin

            It seems you’re blinded by a hatred for Apple, which is why you don’t see the real value why companies and industries have a reason to adopt Apple technology and platforms – IT’S THE CUSTOMERS! Apple’s user base have proven to willingly spend money – an order of magnitude more money on stuff than any other platform.

            This isn’t about making Apple happy, it’s about making the 100′s of millions of people using Apple’s latest devices happy who just might be potential customers. There are about 500 million iOS devices running the latest version of the OS. Apple has 800 million iTunes accounts, most with credit cards. What business is going to turn away those potential customers? You’d have to be crazy.

          • Mark Jones

            Guess you don’t really know as much as you think you know. Retail stores, sports venues, airports, etc, are all trying to sell more product to customers (since those large physical locations have large fixed costs). Within this past year, many of them have already added iBeacons to their infrastructure because they see the opportunity to push targeted marketing to potential customers inside or near their store. So nobody is changing their infrastructure to help Apple sell anything; they’re changing their infrastructure to increase their own sales.

          • Barchiel

            FUK U, Kenny.

            Cheers :)

          • chano1

            Why do you waste your time over a loser? Kenny is clearly confused-by-choice bozoid.

          • Joe_Winfield_IL

            I can’t resist. Eventually even the most obstinate commenter runs out of steam if you bury them in logic. I’d rather not allow him the last word in every thread on this wonderful article.

    • Joe_Winfield_IL

      Why do we “need a real watch with smart capability” as you suggest? What differentiates the watch of your dreams from the future product Tim is describing? Is it the watch face? If so, methinks Apple could somehow figure out how to include a display. If not, try to elaborate on what it is you actually pine for.

      • Kenny

        for the same reason that we need a Smartphone over a feature phone. it can expand the capabilities and the work to do be done for those who love watches

        • mjtomlin

          Today’s smartphones aren’t phones, they are in fact mobile computers that can make mobile phone calls, or VoIP calls. They work because of the relatively large screen size with which we can interact with them.

          A device small enough to fit on your wrist is not going to big enough to practically interact with. It’s real functionally will lie in its ability to relay information. To me, a “Smart watch” would be a watch that is centered around time and location, one that had information about your schedule, where you are, where you should be, how long will it take to get there, etc… alarms, timers, reminders, motion tracking, etc… Devices like Samsung Gear or LG G are the real gimmicks… they fall just behind the UMPC, which were a novel idea, but an absolute nightmare to actually use.

    • Barchiel

      Please STFU. Thanks :)

    • jfutral

      WHo do sell stuff to? People who hate you or your product?

      Joe

  • klahanas

    The greatest advantage in going to Apple wearables (when they appear) is that it will be a well integrated solution from a single source. The greatest disadvantage will be that it’s a well integrated solution from a single source. A single source with high walls. I can only speak for myself, wearables being one step short of implantables, I will not trust any one source solution, no matter who it is.

    When I last went to Disney, I was offended to be shown commercials while waiting in line. At their prices, I would expect a band, or a comic, to keep me occupied in line. This is the next level.

  • bradpdx

    Good experience-based analysis. I agree that screen-centric “watch like” devices are unlikely to work well for many reasons: battery, user screen overload, redundancy with the phone in your pocket, need to touch/gesture/move the UI, etc. The current demonstration of Android Wear products highlights these deficiencies, and I will be very surprised if they get any traction at all.

    The best wearable solutions will be as transparent to the user’s life as possible.

  • FalKirk

    This is a great analysis, Tim. There so much stuff in here that I’m going to have to save it and re-read it again later.

    “Although the rumors are of Apple doing an iWatch, I think that design idea is actually too limited.” ~ Tim Bajarin

    I’ve been thinking along these lines too. I’m afraid to make predictions, because, frankly, I know nothing about what Apple is going to do. However, I’ve been skeptical about the idea of a “watch”. Screen is too small. Yet watch is too big on the wrist. And screen eats up too much battery life. Interaction is awkward, at best.

    And I’ve been skeptical about anything that has to be too fashionable. People like there watches to be just so. But a band? Remember when people were wearing the yellow bands in support of charity? I think a band could become a permeant part of one’s wardrobe without having to become a fashion accessory.

    As I said, I like so many of the things you said in this article that I’m going to have to chew on them a while before I comment further. Thanks so much for posting this. One of the best articles on wearables to date.

    • Space Gorilla

      What if Apple is testing their concept in plain sight with the Disney bands?

  • Luo Ming Xi

    I spend hours everyday/night without my watch, never without my phone.

    • Mark Jones

      Not a very interesting statement, since a watch is not a smartwatch, nor is it an iWatch.
      Also, many products are incredibly useful, even essential, without one spending every hour of everyday/night with it.

    • FalKirk

      Throughout most of my life, everyone wore a watch. And I mean everyone. Not wearing a watch is a rarely recent phenomenon driving by the fact that one’s phone always has the correct time.

      People didn’t wear watches because they were stupid. They wore them because having the time on your wrist was a major convenience. If a product arrives that brings us major value by wearing a band on our wrist, we’ll quickly adjust to wearing those bands, just as my grandfather, my father and I did.

      • Andrew

        And who says it has to be a watch? If Apple can create a device that will fit in a small footprint such as a band, who says it couldn’t be a pendant worn around your neck or a stick pin or a tie clip? That might also provide a little explanation for Apple hiring former fashion industry people who might be assisting in designing a range of “iJewelry” that will all afford the same tech within multiple forms.

        • Snorre Milde

          “Linda, my tie is stuck in the vending machine again.”

          (But yeah, you’re right.)

    • DrewBear2

      I agree the phone remains the primary device. But I can also think of a number of important uses for a “watch” that would get me to wear one again. I can also imagine a future when something-not-a-phone becomes the primary mobile computing device.

  • JeanneRaz

    Change the way we interact with our bodies, homes, retail establishments AND cars, of course!

  • leggo

    Tim,

    Great article as usual, thanks for the insight.

    On the extra security when using fingerprint scans, wouldn’t apple add the scanner along with the AX processor on the band itself?

    It seems to me to make more sense for the authentication to happen between my finger and the band instead of a gazillion devices. Besides, I would want to have my fingerprint protected inside the AX chip instead of some third party door knob.

    On another usage scenario, I would be able to use my own iPhone as a fingerprint reader, and then keep the band authenticated for as long as I wear it. Once the band comes off, the authentication is broken (and I’m sure the band would be able to detect when it no longer feels my pulse.)

    If the band/watch works completely with the iPhone, then no extra hardware is needed. All it takes to drive adoption is software. As a consumer, I would not want to pay extra for having extra hardware (directly at home or indirectly outside the home). It would also increase the value of the iPhone I already bought.

    When Apple does release a product like you suggested, I (along with many others) will be in line to get them, because the value will be clear to see. The choice will be: silver, white, space gray or gold (and the iWatchC will come in colors) ;-)

  • George P

    Why aren’t the above scenarios achievable with iPhones and Bluetooth 4.0 LE?

  • Sunanda Jayanth

    This makes a lot of sense when you sit down and think around how to create “stickiness” in your product. Excellent thoughts here!

  • Will

    Great article. Just one small comment. I don’t know if fingerprint technology is more useful or more secure.

  • Kenneth W K Wu

    Great thoughts and logical analysis! Other tech companies have been making wearable devices for a while, but most of them still haven’t nailed the key purpose so far.

    Here are my thoughts on the iWatch or iWhat? Part I and Part II @medium
    https://medium.com/master-mind/iwatch-or-iwhat-part-i-b619421c293c