Every time I read another story about how Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iWatch is a brand-new technology, I feel like I'm living through The Emperor's New Clothes and nobody else is willing to speak up. While Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Motorola MOTOACTV doesn't possess the full functionality of the rumored iWatch -- which hasn't been fully designed yet, as far as one can tell -- it contains many of the critical features that make it a major advance. MOTOACTV has been on the market for well over a year, and yet news of an advanced watch form factor from Apple seems to be an unheard-of leap forward.
While Google's public focus has been on the introduction of Google Glass, with all of the hype that the alleged iWatch is receiving, you must believe Google is working on the next generation of MOTOACTV. The new Apple product may include complete browsing capabilities and may include functionality that isn't currently available from Google, but with this much lead time, Motorola has plenty of opportunity to get prepared. Nothing should be taken away from the designers in Cupertino and the potential that an iWatch poses, but we should at least be honest that it isn't quite as revolutionary as the chatter in the blogosphere might lead you believe.
What is MOTOACTV?
In the family with Polar heart-rate monitors and other advanced sports watches, MOTOACTV was designed to bundle many of the most popular sports features into a single device. Motorola's solution provides heart-rate monitoring, GPS to track running, cycling and even over 20,000 golf courses, and what the company refers to as a smart MP3 player -- the device tracks which songs you react to and can play an "inspirational" tune when you seem to be tiring. The MOTOACTV also tracks loads of other workout data that can be later downloaded and saved to your computer for analysis and future comparison.
While each of those features makes MOTOACTV a great device for the serious athlete or the weekend warrior, you may be wondering about the big tech features that make it a threat or precursor to the iWatch. By installing an app on your Android smartphone, MOTOACTV can receive calls, texts, Tweets, and posts right on your wrist. Fully integrating additional features such as browsing and expanded voice-activated commands shouldn't be a major stretch if Motorola continues to push forward with this technology.
What does iWatch have that MOTOACTV lacks?
MOTOACTV has market share because it actually exists and the Apple iWatch remains a concept, and a rumored one at that. Leaving aside this fairly critical differentiator, if Apple is able to release an iWatch in the near term, the prognosticators expect that it will offer browsing capabilities, the ability to run a large number of apps, and potentially standalone capacity -- meaning that unlike the MOTOACTV that relies on a connected Android smartphone for communications, the iWatch may include its own antennae. Of course, if that's the case, users may be treated to the delight of yet another voice and/or data plan to make the iWatch work.
Another major, and critical, distinction between the two products as they now "exist" is that the MOTOACTV has a very targeted sports audience, while the Apple device seems to be designed for a wider range of users. This difference may be one of the primary reasons MOTOACTV has remained such a niche product with extremely low awareness. While reviews have been positive, Google has done very little to promote the MOTOACTV outside health clubs.
Motorola continues to lack luster
Late last week, Google announced the elimination of another 1,200 jobs in its Motorola Mobility unit, just the latest in a number of cuts that have decreased the division's workforce by roughly 25%. The specific motivation for Google to buy Motorola for $12.4 billion remains a topic of much disagreement, but the division's Droid Razr line hasn't kept pace with Android phones available from Samsung, such as the Galaxy S III. Still, if Google hopes to see a return on its investment, leveraging existing products would seem like a reasonable first step.
While there have been no indications that Google plans to adopt the MOTOACTV design as a template to race Apple to market with a full-feature smartwatch, at least as a preliminary offering, the kudos should go to Google's Motorola for design and function. Advertising and creating awareness seem to have been a low priority, which seems odd given the hype the iWatch concept has generated. This segment promises to be of huge importance in the near term, meaning that Google and Apple investors will be watching closely to see whether a battle erupts and how it progresses.