Apple's Next Market: Your Body
Do I want an iWatch? Do you? And if I do decide to adorn my wrist with an Apple computer, should I go full hog and accessorize it with a pair of Google glasses that grant me online access with just a twitch of my eyeballs?
Or is that just asking for a world of cross-platform communication headaches? What if my glasses don’t like my watch? It could get ugly.
How cyborg are we willing to go? The question becomes more relevant by the day. Google glasses are not yet commercially available, but co-founder Sergey Brin has been spotted wearing a prototype. More to the point: Fresh reports from The New York Times and Bloomberg suggest that Apple is now devoting significant resources to an iWatch product. And when Apple debuts new product lines, the earth itself shudders.
We don’t know exactly what an iWatch will do or how it will look — heck, we don’t even know if Apple will be the first to market with a full-featured “smartwatch” — but something’s definitely coming around the bend. The logic of late capitalist consumer product business cycles demands new categories of consumption! An entire generation has grown up with naked wrists! Space must be filled.
We can guess that whatever Apple delivers will have a nice high-resolution screen, state-of-the-art voice activation, and the ability to connect to and control our smartphones. Advances in computer miniaturization and glass technology are making new things possible. Cyborg lifestyle accessories are set to become a consumer staple and it is pointless to argue otherwise. Chalk it up as just one more data point proving the inexorable triumph of the geeks. Twenty years ago, “wearable computing” pioneers like MIT’s Thad Starner, Steve Mann and Bradley Rhodes looked ridiculous, weighed down by helmets and backpacks and keyboards all wired together in ungainly jumbles. They couldn’t possibly have come off as bigger dorks. But today, we’re just one successful product launch away from the hipster cyborg singularity. Our technological capabilities have caught up with our geekiest hallucinations. We’re ready.
There are and always will be doubters. We’re already distracted enough by our phones and tablets; must we bring the digital interface closer? What pressing problems are solved by merging ourselves with microprocessors? Why do we even need smartwatches when we’ve already got networked supercomputers in our pockets? In New York magazine, Kevin Roose delivered an impressive, sobering list of failed smartwatch products from the past before declaring it’s “unclear what [Apple] could try that nobody else has done before.”
Smartwatches are the jetpacks of personal computing, in that they’re a sort of futuristic, sci-fi-movie technology that people want badly in theory, but hardly clamor to buy when it’s actually introduced.
The last critique is the easiest to dispose of. Apple has already proven, several times over, that it doesn’t necessarily have to do something that nobody else has done before in order to be insanely successful. Music players existed before the iPod. Apple’s version was just much, much better. Before the iPad launch — and indeed, during the iPad launch — critics slagged the notion that there was a mass market for tablets. They were wrong, because Apple made a tablet people wanted to buy.
We can definitely wonder whether the passing of Steve Jobs has left Apple without a trustworthy final arbiter of design aesthetics. It’s certainly possible that the company has no more tricks up its sleeve. But why don’t we wait until Apple actively bungles a new hardware launch before we start writing epitaphs? Odds are, an Apple iWatch will look cool, instead of clunky. Bendable glass? Who won’t want to play with that? Many smartwatch illustrations evoke memories of the clunky LED watches of the 1970s. But what if it was something different, like wraparound curved glass bracelets, Wonder Woman style? You know you want one.