From the look of it, smartwatches are the new "new thing" in tech.
Just earlier this week, Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) unveiled an updated version of its Android mobile operating system tailored specifically for this emerging tech paradigm, dubbed Android Wear. On top of this exciting news, Google also announced a number of tech OEMs that currently have their own respective smartwatches in development based on Google's new software.
However, for all the hubbub, a major problem exists in these smartwatch plans. Unfortunately for Google and company, these devices essentially do nothing new, aside from set back their buyers a pretty penny. These coming Google-based devices fail to make a significant enough technological leap forward to give them that same "must-have" element common to the first smartphones, for example. Decouple them from their paired smartphones, and what will you get? Not a lot.
However, a recent report highlights signals that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), long lambasted for its lack of a smartwatch, appears to be developing just such a product.
Inside Apple's next game-changing app
A recent article from Apple news site 9to5Mac, citing firsthand sources close to the product, discusses the advanced health-tracking app currently in development at Apple, called Healthbook.
According to the article, Healthbook will largely borrow the card-based design aesthetic from Apple's Passport app, but as the name implies, it will focus entirely on health tracking and personal fitness. Each card within Healthbook will have its own set of specific metrics that will help keep its users abreast of various key health indicators, including "bloodwork, heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, physical activity, nutrition, blood sugar, sleep, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and weight."
Many wearable fitness devices already on the market already cover some of these data points, like physical activity, heart-rate tracking, and sleep tracking, so there isn't anything especially noteworthy about their appearance in Healthbook. However, health drivers like blood-oxygen saturation and blood sugar monitoring hint at a more advanced diagnostic toolkit that requires special sensors that today's wearable health devices simply don't offer, and that's where things get exciting from both a user's and an investor's perspective.
The implication? Apple's iWatch
Again, we're dealing in uncertainty here, but the most logical implication would be that Apple (a) has an iWatch in development and (b) is planning to include some pretty impressive advanced functionality that could push it leaps and bounds ahead of the coming wave of smartwatches running Google's Android Gear.
If the unique extent of Healthbook's functionality is to be believed, Apple will obviously need to collect all this data from somewhere. And given Apple's strong historical and philosophical preference toward controlling both the hardware and software aspects of its products, it seems vastly more likely that Apple would opt to develop the device on its own rather than lean on third-party manufacturers to do the job for it.
Those betting on an Apple iWatch can also point to the various hirings Apple has reportedly made over the past several years. Last year, Apple reportedly hired Jay Blahnik, the fitness advisor who played an integral role in developing Nike's Nike+ app and FuelBand. Apple's also been on a hiring spree for doctors and engineers with expertise in non-invasive biometrics monitoring. The company has even poached notable fashion executives such as Paul Deneve, the former CEO of luxury label Yves Saint Laurent. It's certainly plausible that each of these executives could be working on other various projects within Apple, but it's hard to deny that their combined expertise would be perfect for designing some kind of advanced wearable device.
There's also the long list of targeted acquisitions and patent filings pointing to Apple's interest in the space. All of this admittedly circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Apple is indeed developing an iWatch, and that it's swinging for the fences in doing so.
Hurry up and wait
The risk in all this is that if Healthbook turns out to be just another fitness tracking app, Apple will have delivered an unequivocal dud. And as with all rumors, other outlets have reported to the contrary of the Healthbook storyline I'm discussing here. However, circling back to the author's claim of "multiple sources working directly on the initiative's development," investors can hope there's some veracity to the news.
More broadly, without question, watching the dawn of the smartwatch market unfold in front of our eyes should be exciting for both technology enthusiasts and investors alike. And like the advent of other recent consumer-electronics markets, it seems the current devices just aren't quite robust enough for the market to reach critical mass. It's like 2006 for the smartphone market. Everyone knew there was a market waiting to take off, but no company had truly raised the bar to the point that made these devices "must-haves."
As the company that chooses to operate at the higher-end, closed ecosystem segment of its various markets, each new device Apple launches needs to be better -- not incrementally, but substantially -- than the competition if it hopes to sell well. But given the reasonably unimpressive lineup of smartwatches due for release in the months ahead, as well as Apple's unique proclivity for setting the standards in each new market it enters, I'm betting that Apple has another game-changer on the way with its iWatch.
Here's to hoping.