iWatch: It’s About The Ecosystem

on February 21, 2014

When you are as big as Apple only certain markets work because real growth must come in staggeringly huge increments. Only platforms matter—not technologies—because platforms become ecosystems; properly nurtured, they are self sustaining. Witness the iPhone: a radio, a screen, and some processing handed over to app developers becomes a game box, a newsreader, a mail client, an ATM…

Have you ever wondered how a watch was so-named in the first place? When did carrying a timepiece become “pocket watch” or “wristwatch”? The term watch is believed to have come from the Old English word “woecce”, meaning quite literally, “watchman”—it was how the town watchman kept track of his shift. Watches as timepieces were meant to evoke keeping an “eye” on the the town or the camp; guarding against unseen enemies. When it was your turn to be “on guard” you were posted to the watch for a certain period of time. That period of time was measured by the sun, the moon, then a clock tower and eventually in the 19th century, a device on our wrists. The history here is important because it was the function (watching) that derived the form (portable timekeeping) The simple act of telling time, became a platform on which the applications around timekeeping could be implemented. Measuring time was a way of coordinating remote events, calendaring, traveling, a scientific instrument, a navigation tool, and even a weapon of war. You can run a lot of apps on a timepiece.

While everyone has been focused on potential iWatch news: curved screens, iBeacon, Burberry, medical device hires and trademarking of names like iWatch, Apple has been busy building its next ecosystem. Apple picked your wrist because the last two hundred years of market research showed that many of us were willing to put a scientific instrument there. After that it has been an engineering effort to find out just how many useful sensors Apple’s engineers could cram into the space a human wrist afforded without making the wearer look like a dork. Apple jumped with glee when Samsung did huge amounts of public research for them for free with a Galaxy Gear Watch. Apple has seen just about everything that is likely to be a contender and all the competitors are standing around and well… watching.

To build an ecosystem, Apple is going after sensor density on your wrist as a way of truly keeping “watch”. If they are building this thing called an “iWatch” then they are going to gather data about you from your wrist and let a developer community write apps to monetize that dataset. Apple will provide the platform and developers will provide the usability. Apple will take their usual cut. You can bet iWatches will have cutesy “change the clock face” functionality, or text message alerts, but those apps will be sitting over a dozen unseen sensors buried in a liquid metal bezel, looking out from underneath a scratch-resistant sapphire face. Apple will hand out developer tools and a set of APIs that enable the making of medical diagnostic apps a breeze. Apple will have thought through how iWatch data is synchronized and secure; they’ll have modeled app pricing in the forthcoming “iWatch store” and have Jony Ive designed interchangeable watch bands at the ready. Apple will have considered third party peripherals based on protocols on which they intend to collect royalties. Importantly Apple will have decided than an iWatch requires an M7 motion coprocessor in your iPhone. This M7 requirement will force a mini upgrade cycle in iPhones for buyers of iWatches who are “stuck” on an iPhone 4. Ecosystems feed themselves after awhile.

My guess is that if such a device exists Apple will shy away from true “FDA approved” medical apps themselves because liability is a concern. Apple does not want to be paying out in a lawsuit for Uncle Don’s diabetic coma if an app fails to perform for some reason; they will want to punt this problem to the app developers. You thought all those hires they’ve been making with medical device expertise were for apps they were developing themselves? Probably not. Those well paid doctors are Apple’s new medical app evangelism team ready to help you develop your app. That shiny new set of devtools from Apple will have a shiny new indemnity clause in the shrink wrap agreement, so read it closely!

Because it’s a platform, Apple will likely announce it in the spring and tell everyone in the meantime that the iWatch is formally shipping “at the end of the summer”. Tim Cook will show a couple of in-house developed apps to get the creative juices flowing. Mark Parker, Nike’s CEO, will be on stage to demo Nike’s iWatch fitness app, which Tim Cook will gush over being “super excited” to use. Phil Schiller will breathlessly announce that the developer kit is shipping now! Eight hours later Apple will announce over twitter a mind-boggling number of dev kit downloads, and the race will be on. Will Apple make money off of an iWatch? Sure. Will they make a killing off the ecosystem around it? You can bet your life on it.

It’s a platform right? Lets get a jump on what could happen on the wrist that will make this the next must have gadget from Apple. Put in your suggestions and votes in the comments section and we’ll post a follow up “Top 10 Requested iWatch Apps” next week. Here are mine:

  1. AppleTV remote control: I can waive my arm around like a wii remote and control my TV.
  2. [insert your favorite] counter: steps, heartbeats…
  3. Proximity sensor to my iDevice: if I get too far away from my iPad, my watch beeps and buzzes.
  4. Configuration device: any iDevice I touch, knows my passwords, wifi settings etc. (remember they’re stored in the cloud not the watch, the watch is just verifying me).
  5. Child alarm: I buy one for my kids so I know where they are in the mall—look for the ability to link more than one iWatch to an iPhone.
  6. Parent Watch: my elderly parent gets one. I know when she’s up, if she’s getting her exercise, if she’s running a fever, if she’s taking her heart meds…
  7. Credit card: with iBeacon and my phone in my pocket I only need to wave a watch at a pay station…
  8. Heart attack warning: need I say more?
  9. Glucose monitor
  10. 911 emergency beacon with vital stats at the ready when the paramedics show up (if not already there via a phone upload)
  11. Bonus app: Flappy Third. An iPhone game in which a poorly rendered 2D style bird has a broken wing. By flapping your iWatch enabled arm up and down you can help the injured bird fly and avoid pipes. Insanely difficult to play and you look creepy playing it in an airport.