Wearable computing may be wearing out its welcome.
One of the bigger surprises in Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone event on Tuesday is that the consumer-tech tastemaker didn't follow its peers into wearable computing. Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has been turning heads with its Google Glass since it began distributing them to beta testers earlier this year. Things seemed to be heating up earlier this month when Samsung and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) both threw their hats into the nascent smartwatch market.
On Tuesday, there was no iWatch or iSpecs to dazzle gadget fiends. Does that make Apple too slow to cash in on a hot trend, or is it smart to sit the formative years out?
There is certainly something to be said about waiting for the market to form. Sticker shock may keep anyone aside from affluent early adopters from embracing some of these new toys.
Google was asking beta testers to shell out $1,500 to be one of the first 8,000 to don the high-tech specs in the wild. Both the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Qualcomm Toq will set buyers back $300. There are certainly designer watches costing considerably more than that, but the thing is that all of the wearable devices unveiled until now may be technologically functional, but they're fashionable disasters. The first generation of smartwatches seem chunky, lacking bendable displays. Google Glass, let's be honest, looks outright freaky.
Perhaps this is why the market was hoping for Apple to have something to offer on that front. Its reputation for fashion-forward design is hard to knock. If Apple had come out with the iWatch -- or even the iLens, iSpecs, iEye, or whatever it would call computing eyewear -- it would have certainly looked different than what's out there already. That would have been a good thing.
Apple will naturally argue that it did introduce a piece of wearable computing on Tuesday.
The iPhone 5s comes with a coprocessor that measures motion data from the device's accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. Instead of draining the battery by taxing the A7 chip workhorse, the new M7 coprocessor may help eat into the fitness bracelets and smartwatch gadgets aimed at tracking movement. Apple claims that if an iPhone 5s owner is running Maps and gets out of a car, the M7 will know to switch from driving to walking navigation.
Naturally, this defies the very spirit that Pebble birthed when its successful Kickstarter campaign started the smartwatch movement. Folks don't want to have to dig into their purses or pockets when an incoming call or text comes in.
However, is that enough?
Samsung's entry introduces a camera into the niche market. It also plays nice with dozens of apps. However, its compatibility is limited to the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for now. Qualcomm's Toq will play nice with far more devices, but it may be a hard sell beyond the long battery life as a result of its proprietary Mirasol display.
Apple could have made a splash here, yet for whatever reason it decided to hold off for now. It's not as if Apple's history is all about playing it safe. When the iPhone came out, the smartphone wasn't really a consumer product. No one thought they would need a tablet until Apple explained why they should buy an iPad. Apple's absence in wearable computing is telling.
Maybe it knows that the revolution is over before it even had a chance to begin.
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