Thursday, February 29, 2024

Why the Apple iWatch Needs Curved Glass

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Rumors have been flying this week about a possible Apple wristwatch.

Facts are few and speculation rampant.

The rumors are based on credible reports in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

Because everybody goes nuts over Apple rumors like this, let’s stop a moment and separate fact from fiction. Here’s a complete list of what we know and what we don’t know about Apple’s rumored wristwatch.

I’ll also tell you what I believe the Apple wristwatch will look like, how it will function — and why.

What We Know

The New York Times’ Nick Bilton reported this week that his sources told him Apple is “experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass.” Those same sources say that if Apple were to ship a wristwatch, it would run iOS.

The Wall Street Journal’s Jessica E. Lessin wrote that her sources are saying Apple has “discussed such a device with its major manufacturing partner Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.” (better known as Foxconn).

And Bloomberg’s Peter Burrows and Adam Satariano claim sources who say that Apple “has a team of about 100 product designers working on a wristwatch-like device,” indicating a serious effort.

What We Don’t Know

Assuming the sources do have knowledge of Apple’s plans, we don’t know if Apple has decided to make or sell a wristwatch, or if they’re still just thinking about it.

If Apple is planning to make a watch, we don’t know how it will work. For example, sources have not specified whether such a watch will be able to

  • connect wirelessly to an iPhone,
  • accept Siri commands and play Siri replies,
  • run dedicated iOS apps,
  • function as the microphone and speaker for phone calls,
  • work with Apple’s Passbook payment system by displaying barcodes for scanning,
  • measure basic fitness data like distance or heart rate or
  • provide identity information, replacing passwords.

We also don’t know that Apple would call such a watch the “iWatch,” when it would ship, how much it would cost or any other such marketing details.

Why It’s Time for Apple to Make a Wristwatch

I told you last month in this space about the 5 tech trends that will bring back the wristwatch. I believe not only that Apple will ship a wristwatch, but that other major consumer electronics companies will as well.

Apple itself has sent out numerous signals that it champions the idea of wristwatch computing.

Steve Jobs himself suggested the use of its previous-generation nano as a wristwatch. Apple sold watchbands for it in their Apple store and even designed and gave away a collection of clock faces for the nano. Apple also designed and built mini wristwatch-specific apps for the device. (The most recent nano can’t be used as a wristwatch.)

Apple has partnered with Nike for some time first on an iPod nano app, and more recently on a Nike wristwatch called the Nike+ Fuelband.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is actually on the Nike board of directors and is known to personally wear a Nike Fuelband.

Apple has also worked with Jawbone on their UP wristwatch device, which tracks activity, food, sleep and other data.

So why an Apple wristwatch? And why now?

Recent developments in technology would enable Apple (and other companies) to produce watches with features previously impossible.

For example, Corning has recently developed a technology called Willow Glass. (Corning is the company that makes Gorilla Glass for iPhones and other mobile devices.)

According to Corning’s Web page about the technology, Willow Glass will “help enable thin, light and cost-efficient applications including today’s slim displays and the smart surfaces of the future. The thinness, strength and flexibility of the glass has the potential to enable displays to be ‘wrapped’ around a device or structure.” The site also points out that “Willow Glass is formulated to perform exceptionally well for electronic components such as touch sensors, as well as leveraging glass’s natural hermetic properties as a seal for OLED displays and other moisture and oxygen sensitive technologies.”

Another newish technology ideal for better smart watches is Bluetooth 4.0, which shipped first in the iPhone 4S in October of 2011 and every Apple phone, tablet and computer since. Its signature feature is called Bluetooth Low Energy. It enables Bluetooth connectivity like previous devices, but drains the battery at a tiny fraction of the rate of older generations of Bluetooth.

These two technologies alone take away most of the annoyance of past smart watches — bulkiness and the need to recharge almost daily.

How the Apple Wristwatch Will Look and Function

A comic called The Joy of Tech suggested this week some hilarious features for an Apple iWatch.

I have some predictions that are less funny but more likely.

The Apple wristwatch rumors have always been associated with the idea of curved glass. But why?

I believe the reason Apple is interested in curved glass is that they want a device with a 16:9 aspect ratio — the same as the new iPhone and the same as the 7th-generation iPod nano.

With such an aspect ratio it would have to curve around the wrist so its edges wouldn’t rise absurdly above the wrist.

I’ll go further: I think the perfect size for the watch’s screen is exactly 1/4 the size of the iPhone 5’s screen — or half as wide and half as high, allowing two columns of icons stacked three high (six icons per screen). That would enable standard iPhone 5 apps and videos to be displayed by being shrunk in half.

I believe the Apple wristwatch will have a physical button, as iPhones and iPads do, to prevent accidental activation of functions.

The best way to picture the Apple iWatch is to shrink the existing iPod nano just a bit, making it a little smaller and thinner, then wrapping it around the wrist with a rubber or leather band.

That size would also be small enough to be reasonable for men, women and children to wear.

And most importantly, the Apple wristwatch would have to break away from the ridiculously bulky designs that nearly all so-called smart watches have suffered from to date.

Hardcore Apple fans wore the previous-general iPod nano as a wristwatch (including Yours Truly). But that was an awkward accessory with sharp corners that stuck way out.

Apple is obsessed with shipping the thinnest phone, tablet and even desktop all-in-one PC — you can be sure they will be obsessed with shipping the thinnest smart watch ever.

It’s almost certain that the watch will perform all of the functions of an iPod nano without a Bluetooth connection. In will show the time, play music and videos and offer some fitness-related Nike app functionality out of the box. It will be designed to be usable by runners and other fitness fans.

But it’s also nearly certain that the watch will interact with a nearby iPhone via Bluetooth 4.0, displaying incoming iMessage items, giving you alerts of all kinds and allowing you to control basic functions on the iPhone without removing it from your pocket or purse.

In other words, the Apple watch will be both a stand-alone iPod nano and a peripheral device to an iPhone connected via Bluetooth.

At some point, possibly even in the first version, I also believe the Apple wristwatch will probably allow two-way voice — you’ll be able to answer calls by talking and listening to the watch like a speakerphone. It will also enable Siri commands via the iPhone.

These are the facts about what we know and what we don’t know about the Apple iWatch, and also my personal predictions for how it will look and function.

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