By all accounts, we won’t be seeing the iWatch until sometime next year. This is giving the press lots of time to speculate about exactly what the device might be. Since I can wildly speculate as well as the next tech pundit, I thought I’d take a shot myself.
To start, we can pretty safely say what the iWatch won’t be, and that’s a standalone cellphone. As clever as Jony Ive is, he has yet to become master of the laws of physics, and the limiting issue for cellphones is the size of the battery. Most of the actual bulk of a modern phone is the battery, and even if an iWatch uses a power-miserly processor and display, the cellular radio itself is going to put too much of a drain on the device to make it practical. Consider that the Galaxy Gear (which is trying to steal the iWatch’s thunder by getting to the market first) lasts about a day between charges, and has no phone inside it.
In fact, we can take it farther, and assume that the only connectivity that the iWatch will support is Bluetooth Low Energy. Apple has already signaled their intent to make Bluetooth LE a core technology with the new iBeacon support in iOS 7, so incorporating that into an iWatch should be a no-brainer.
So what else (other than a really nice touch display) will an iWatch have? Almost certainly an accelerometer. Being able to track arm motion offers a number of benefits to developers, including the ability to use the iWatch as an input device for computers and iPhones. Imagine a first-person shooter running on a revamped Apple TV, where you aim by pointing your arm. And, of course, it would make a great pedometer.
Sticking with the exercise theme, and since Apple loves to team with Nike, I’d put decent money on the iWatch having contacts for a heart monitor on the backside. If you’re going to have a device in physical contact with your skin all the time, you might as well make use of it.
There will also probably be the ability to use the iWatch to give vibrational notices from your phone. Having a phone on vibrate in your pocket doesn’t work well; there’s an entire syndrome devoted to people who think their phone is buzzing when it isn’t. A vibrating iWatch would be hard to ignore.
Going out a bit further onto the limb, I could see Apple getting creative and using the same contacts to try and measure muscle contraction. Then you could use clenching your fist as a UI gesture. Going back to the shooter game idea, you could clench to fire.
Will the iWatch have speakers, a microphone and a camera? Then, paired with Facetime, you could have your Dick Tracy videowatch at last. And talking into your wrist would be just about perfect for getting the right image to send back, as opposed to the awkwardness of holding an iPhone for a video call.
The billion-dollar question is if the iWatch will be innovative enough to get people back in the habit of wearing something on their wrist again. We now have an entire generation that pulls their phone out of their pocket to check the time. Maybe a blingy gold iWatch will be enough of a status symbol to return watches to fashion.