Were Apple bosses too late off the mark with iWatch?

10 September 2014 -


New device’s launch into crowded market could prove to be a gamble – especially with Android competitors ruling the roost

Matt Packer

Technophiles had something big to tweet and blog about yesterday, following Apple’s announcement that it is poised to release an iWatch. However, for many observers of the personal electronics market, the firm’s reveal marks the end of an unusually long wait for official word on the device, which has been subject to copious speculation for more than 18 months.

In February 2013, for example, it emerged that Apple had filed a patent application for a specific type of watch design as long ago as 2011. Five months later, the company gave every indication that the iWatch was imminent by filing for the necessary trademark.

Apple’s specs for the iWatch show that the “slap-wrap”, flexible screen outlined in the patent did not, in fact, make it to the final device. Instead, the product is a more conventional, solid-state watch body available in a range of different styles, together with a range of strap choices. In that sense, there is every cause to assume that the firm, several versions deep into its celebrated iPhone, already has something up its sleeve for a second-generation iWatch – even before its new brainchild has hit Apple Store shelves.

But perhaps Apple has more to worry about at present than the particulars of design. Where it was once a byword for first-mover advantage – famously trouncing Microsoft by capturing the smartphone market in its infancy – the company that Steve Jobs built has lost valuable ground to other players, with the host of rumours about the iWatch in the past year and a half suggesting that it has been plagued with delays.

Meanwhile, the Pebble smartwatch has garnered ample grassroots support, generated largely via the Kickstarter campaign that enabled it to launch, and there already exists a clutch of similar products that run on Google’s Android operating system.

Yesterday, online business journal Upstart revealed that Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky did not consider the iWatch a significant threat, and felt secure in the market. “We’ve been working on smartwatches for six years,” he said, “and aren’t tied to any legacy products … Pebble is a device that enhances the smartphone, but also exists as a separate computing platform.” In a wry aside, he added: “I wouldn’t say that competition is anything new in the space.”

Last week, Android Wear engineering director David Singleton revealed that, in the remainder the year, enhanced music and GPS services would roll out across the Google smartwatch family – which consists of the LG G Watch R, the Sony Smartwatch 3, the recently launched Moto 360 and the forthcoming Asus Zen. By contrast to Apple, which is using the iWatch to push its brand, Android is aiming for a more invisible, utilitarian touch. “So often, technology can become something that gets in the way of everything else,” wrote Singleton on the Android blog. “But we want to build devices that you can use when you need and forget about when you don’t – technology that’s built for your sake, rather than its own sake.”

When the fanfare has died down and market analysts take a deeper look at the iWatch’s potential impact, it will be hard to avoid the point that the bosses behind its competitors have not just stolen a march on Apple, but are happy to march to the beats of their own drums. Or the ticks of their own watches.

For more on these issues, check out the details on this forthcoming CMI and Institute of Consulting seminar, Strategy and Business Development.

Image of the iWatch courtesy of Apple.

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