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  • Apple's Potential New Product Categories: Living Room Or Wearable Computing? - Part II 30 comments
    May 28, 2013 9:18 PM | about stocks: AAPL

    As an introduction and summary, my conclusion from part I (discussing Apple's strategy in the living room) was: Apple should not produce a TV set ("iTV"). The company can probably achieve

    - a better user experience (Apple TV SDK for iOS developers, more content deals, "appification" of TV stations with personalized content and advertising, use iPad/iPhones as second screens)

    - increased market share in the living room with improved Apple TV box revisions at low price points around $49-99 - hooked up to any "commodity" HD TV - without creating its own TV set.

    A new Apple TV-enabled SDK for iOS developers (in addition to an SDK for content owners such as TV stations and film studios) will also open new markets for "casual gaming" in the living room through the Apple TV and iTunes/iCloud - it is estimated that half of today's iOS apps for Apple's mobile devices are games. These game developers could leverage their current work and have less barriers to entry than on traditional game consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Apple already conquered much of the mobile gaming market from established competitors Nintendo and Sony in a similar fashion - while not even marketing the iPod touch/iPhone/iPad specifically as a gaming device.

    Let's now turn to the second category B.: "Wearables"

    B. Wearable computing devices (for example a smartwatch)

    I had argued in part I of this article that there's a stark distinction between the two categories A. (iTV) and B. (Wearables) in terms of market potential for AAPL. I have argued that Apple has much to lose in category A. (with an iTV set) - but much to gain in category B.

    Wearable devices are a less concrete proposition than a TV set. There could many possible device form factors and products, for example

    - Smart Glasses (for example, Google Glass)

    - Smart Wristwatches (aka "iWatch", I will also use this term below)

    I will focus on wristwatch devices because early smart glasses look quite "nerdy" at the moment (see Google Glass) - this is of course just speculation on my part given Apple's past products and design focus.

    Existing smartwatches on sale include these two devices for example:

    (click to enlarge)

    (Image Source: Macrumors)

    On the left one can see a smartwatch from Sony, on the right a device from Pebble. Both offer wireless connections to other devices (most likely your smartphone) to display data, alerts and other information.

    Iterations of iWatches from Apple could do much more using a slightly larger, color screen and an adapted iOS SDK - in part thanks to iCloud integration and the huge pool of existing iOS developers. The base functionality provided by Apple in the OS could include these features:

    - Mobile payments (All sort of payments, specially for small amounts by just "waving your wand", coupon redemptions)

    - Mobile ID / Access (Exchanging business cards, "Apple Passbook 2.0" for ticket codes, Access controls *...)

    - Mobile self-checks (Health alerts, Sleep Monitor, Fitness monitors with existing partners such as Nike+)

    - Device Control (Simple Automation at home for lights, TV - or inside your car)

    - Digital Assistant (using an improved version of Siri and an adapted iOS notification center showing alerts, news, iMessages...)

    * Bruce Tognazzini came up with another great use case on his blog - fast access control in the digital world (I did not even think of that):

    Your iWatch vouches for you, so you'll never have to type another passcode or password again.

    These combined possibilities may sound like a checklist stolen from a Dick Tracy comic book - but so were high-resolution, multi-touch portable devices with over 10 hours of battery life a few years ago before the iPad (and later the Retina iPad) launched.

    The technology puzzle needed for iWatch devices is likely solved soon - probably around 2014-2015. The biggest obstacles are probably better battery life and flexible high-res color screens for these smartwatches.

    For example, Disney (NYSE:DIS) - with obviously lots of existing relations to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) but I do not want to read too much into this, it could very well be a mere coincidence - is introducing colored wristbands at its theme parks later in 2013:

    (click to enlarge)

    (Image Source: Mousehints )

    Some of the possibilities and functionalities of these wristbands (called "Magic Bands") being tested at Disney theme parks include:

    The wrist band will allow guests to purchase food, souvenirs, enter the park and use the Fastpass system. Disney is also looking to allow participating guests to have better views of parades, fireworks and other activities. There is no question that initially, as many guests are apprehensive, guests using this technology will probably gain many benefits. ( Sources: Mousehints, AppleInsider )

    This example may give a glimpse how a more powerful iOS (or a derivative of iOS optimized for iWatch) based Apple wristwatch device might work in the future. I will list five reasons (as I did for category A.) why Apple could have much to gain when introducing such a device:

    1. The iWatch category can replace/extend the declining "music only" iPod line-up. Apple already took baby steps into iWatch territory with a previous version of the iPod Nano (Nano 6th generation device). It could be used as a wristwatch. With a full iWatch product line, the old "single-purpose" iPod line (basically useful for audio or video playback only, except for the new iPod touch) can be expanded beyond music - replacing the aging iPod product category and its falling revenue streams over time. The new iWatch will be an iPod Nano on steroids.

    2. Wearable items often are "Veblen" goods: High margins are accepted, Apple's strong brand is ideally suited for this segment. A wearable or highly visible, emotional product is often used to demonstrate social status. For example, there is obviously no "traditional" use case (keeping time) for traditional mechanical watches costing thousands of (insert your currency here) in the 21st century - nor is there for luxury high-end sports cars given today's speed limits, but people continue to buy these products. Apple is better suited at marketing such "Veblen" goods with higher margins than most of its competitors thanks to its brand halo and positioning. For example, Apple could just produce the central part of the "watch" while third-party accessory makers would produce the wristbands or other additions. A similar concept was used for the older iPod Nano version mentioned above:

    (click to enlarge)

    (Image Source: The Gadgeteer )

    High-end (or even luxury) accessories by traditional accessory good makers result in mutual benefit for both Apple and the accessory maker. Traditional luxury companies already produce(d) cases for current iDevices - often costing more than the Apple device itself. This combination could also result in serious competition to some of the mid-market watch makers who are not capable of producing/replicating the technology part of the smartwatch equation themselves.

    3. The "new" competitors in smartwatches are fragmented. The "new" entrants producing smart watches so far consists of smaller companies (namely i'mwatch from Italy and the Kickstarter-funded Pebble Smartwatch shown above - the only exception is Sony, but the company does not appear to put much effort into marketing its first smartwatch). The market is ripe for Apple to crack; one can compare it to the nascent MP3 player market in 2001 - just before Apple introduced its first iPod.

    4. The "established" Apple competitors went into a different (the wrong ?) "nerdy" direction. The best example of this different direction is the one Google took with Google Glass. Glass may well be a technological marvel from a "nerdy" perspective when it arrives in 2014 in finalized form, but many people will have (at least at first, it's hard to make predictions for such disruptive technologies) reservations talking to or interacting with people wearing Google Glass (especially with strangers). The disparaging term "Glasshole" is already making the rounds - even though Google Glass is only available in prototype form as of today. In contrast, an iWatch is less intrusive in social interactions - and might not even include a camera.

    5. The timing is right/market is ripe for an iWatch introduction in 2014-2016. There are a lot of technology pieces converging in the near future: More powerful batteries, flexible low-energy screens, NFC (or a derivative of Airdrop) and 2D-barcode payment/coupon systems and access control systems, a low-power Bluetooth protocol, an improved Siri assistant. Finally, the critical mass of iOS devices is already out there: An iWatch can provide yet another lock-in to the Apple ecosystem in combination with iPads and especially iPhones - since each iWatch is of course wirelessly linked to the users' existing iDevices (and thus also to the iCloud from Apple).

    Conclusion: It could be argued the choice between the living room and wearable computing is not an "either-or" decision given Apple's large resources; Apple could of course introduce both an iTV and an iWatch in the near future. In this scenario, I think the iTV device will probably launch before a wearable computing device due to the technology restrictions outlined in reason 5. above.

    It can't be understated how much recurring revenue there is in the potential feature list for an iWatch, especially in mobile payments. On the other hand, the living room looks crowded with low gross margins.

    I therefore think category B. (smartwatch such as an iWatch, or more general "wearables") offers higher potential for Apple (given the five reasons listed above) in terms of gross margins, the overall market size and recurring revenue. Finally, AAPL can more likely get an early lead in "wearables" - similar to what they achieved in the digital music market with the iPod - compared to the crowded competition in the living room.

    Finally, recent reports from financial media (like this one on Bloomberg from February 2013) also seem to indicate Apple is serious about the wearable space: "Apple Said to Have Team Developing Wristwatch Computer". Analysts with a good track record (such as Mr. Kuo) also think an iWatch might be coming in late 2014, see here for details. My take is we will see this move within 12-36 months.

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  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Shortly after I published my article, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the D conference. He had this to say regarding wearable devices:


    "Tim Cook at D11: Wearables Are 'Incredibly Interesting', Nothing Great on the Market"


    but also:


    "There's nothing that's going to convince a kid who has never worn glasses or a band or a watch or whatever to wear one. Or at least I haven't seen it. So I think there's lots of things to solve in this space, but it's an area where it's ripe for exploration, it's ripe for us all getting excited about. I think there will be tons of companies playing in this.


    I see it as another very key branch of the tree.


    I think from a mainstream point of view [glasses] are difficult to see. I think the wrist is interesting. I'm wearing this (Nike Fuelband) on my wrist, it's somewhat natural. But as I said before, I think for something to work here, you first have to convince people it's so incredible that they want to wear it."



    He is of course right about both obstacles to overcome:


    - Few young people ("thanks" to smartphones) wear watches nowadays


    - Old(er) people often prefer mechanical/traditional watches, they might not like any "electronic gadgets" around their wrist.


    However, I think the capabilties outlined above will make an iWatch an easy proposition - and the rest who prefer not to wear an iWatch on their wrist can still use most of that functionality using their iPhone.
    29 May 2013, 12:33 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » One note about pricing, I did not touch on this in the article. I think an iWatch could fetch quite a high ASP if it's positioned properly:


    An iWatch could become a fashion and lifestyle statement, especially among the younger generation.


    Two examples of similar personal items, separated by gender, for older generations:


    - Women like to buy expensive accessories such as handbags or sunglasses (Louis Vuitton..)


    - Men like to buy expensive mechanical watches (Omega...)


    What is extremely important for these customers? The "right" brand.


    If any company can pull off a high-tech device one wears in a similar fashion every day on the body, it's Apple in my opinion.


    Summary: Apple can generate very high gross margins in this scenario because the iWatch will also offer unique technological functionality in addition to being a "Veblen" good.
    29 May 2013, 08:15 PM Reply Like
  • Mr. Knowitall
    , contributor
    Comments (7387) | Send Message
    I think iWatch could be huge for Apple (and everyone else)


    My vision of such a device would go something like this:


    1. The device would be fairly dumb. Mostly Voice IN, and Video OUT with a bluetooth receiver.
    2. The iWatch would get periodic bluetooth updates from your iPhone.
    If you got an IM, your iWatch might beep or vibrate. At this point you may say a keyword tp put it into "listening mode" or perhaps double tap the face to put it into "listening mode".
    3. Once in listening mode (imagine you're driving), you can say things like:
    a) Read message (equivalent to read first message)
    b) read next message
    c) reply message [you now speak your reply]
    d) end message review


    The idea here being all the heavy lifting is actually performed in your iPhone and the iWatch is a simple proxy.


    A special API would be made available by Apple that allowed the creation of iWatch apps. The app wouldn't actually run 'on the iWatch', but the API would allow developers to format their display for the iWatch (display being sent to the iWatch via Bluetooth.)
    30 May 2013, 06:20 PM Reply Like
  • Mr. Knowitall
    , contributor
    Comments (7387) | Send Message
    PS. My reason for the 'dumb' watch is that you can't physically pack the RAM, FLASH, CPU, and battery into suchj a small form factor, not today anyway. By offloading the heavy lifting to the bluetooth connected iPhone, the watch could do anything the app programmer was able to imagine and fit on an iPhone.


    My approach leads to a far more functional, although tethered device.


    All ideas presented here are Copyright (C) Mr. Knowitall ;-)
    30 May 2013, 06:23 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Thank you for your comments.


    I agree to a large extent, the iPhone (or iPad) will be paired (over Bluetooth or similar) to do most of the heavy lifting.


    In addition, I can think that an iWatch could pack WiFi and connect to the iCloud on its own in some use cases, for example when using Siri or submitting fitness/health data.


    There has been lots of progress in low-power Wifi and Bluetooth recently:



    I think the device introduction is 12-36 months off, so there could be further progress. Battery life and flexible color screens also look critical.
    30 May 2013, 07:17 PM Reply Like
  • Mr. Knowitall
    , contributor
    Comments (7387) | Send Message


    I could see a missed opportunity for the company that mistakenly tries to make the watch too stand-alone and has to make damning compromises.


    I think the 'remote terminal' notion is key, even if we as you say add some stand-alone features.
    30 May 2013, 07:42 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Update, $AAPL reportedly filing for iWatch trademarks:

    5 Jun 2013, 02:47 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Also, Apple patents related to mobile payments, digital wallets:


    Apple files ‘iMoney’ patent for virtual currency, digital wallet...


    8 Jun 2013, 10:18 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Another piece in the puzzle concerning a potential iWatch:


    "Rumored Apple hires from medical sensor field could hint at 'iWatch' capabilities"

    18 Jul 2013, 10:32 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Lots of details on iWatch and involved people at AAPL can be found here:

    18 Jul 2013, 01:33 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Another indication AAPL might be working on wearables:


    "Apple acquires power-efficient chipmaker Passif Semiconductor"



    Original source:



    Also of interest:


    "“Autonomous battery-free microwave communication system”."



    Analyst Kuo still thinks 'late 2014' is the target date, sounds reasonable to me given all the technical challenges I outlined in the article:


    "Apple's 'iWatch' to come in late 2014 with focus on biometrics, analyst says"

    2 Aug 2013, 11:25 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Update: It looks like Samsung is set to introduce a smartwatch before Apple, unveiling early Sept 13:


    " Samsung v Apple: Galaxy Gear release brings time for smartwatch rivalry


    Samsung's smartwatch going to market in September may set off new battle after wrangles with Apple over tablets and mobiles."

    17 Aug 2013, 12:58 AM Reply Like
  • Mr. Knowitall
    , contributor
    Comments (7387) | Send Message
    The smartwatch already exists, problem is neither Apple nor Samsung created it!
    17 Aug 2013, 01:35 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » These all look like niche products. Smartwatches will have to a different, more fashion-like design or many design options to appeal to the mass market (especially women):


    "Will they look cool? Personal technology is fashion. Smartphones have a certain aesthetic appeal, but they didn’t replace any existing piece of jewelry, as smartwatches will have to. Samsung’s record on aesthetics is patchy. For the company to convince us to start strapping its latest device to our wrists, it’s going to have to make the thing more than functional. It will have to make its watch cool."

    17 Aug 2013, 02:12 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Unofficial Samsung Gear video, promising ideas:



    It looks like battery life could be an issue with such devices, otherwise they probably get bulky...
    18 Aug 2013, 01:00 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » A good summary on iWatch rumors:

    30 Aug 2013, 03:38 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Samsung just launched its smartwatch. First review of Samsung Galaxy Gear:



    Launch in Sept/Oct 2013. As I noted, there are several issues:


    - augmented reality features still in infancy (interesting starts...)


    - battery life (one day maximum, even that seems optimistic ?)


    - dependent on a smartphone for most functions


    - design (especially camera location)


    - overall functionality (do many people really need/want this in ADDITION to a smartphone/tablet) for a price of $300 ?


    It will be interesting to see how and if Apple reacts in late 2014 (rumored launch date for an iWatch) and how the S Gear evolves in version 2 and 3.


    PS: Qualcomm and Sony also launched new watches:


    - Sony launched version 2 of its smartwatch but, as with version 1, doesn't seem to put much marketing emphasis behind it:



    It was barely mentioned at Sony's IFA keynote 2013 in Berlin.


    - Qualcomm's watch is always-on:


    "The watch, which is pronounced “talk” and is expected to sell for around $300, uses Qualcomm’s Mirasol display — a screen technology that combines the long battery life of E-Ink-style displays with color and other features usually found on an LCD display. It also packs Qualcomm-backed WiPower LE wireless charging, and connects to an Android phone via Bluetooth."



    Always- on seems like a nice feature thanks to its display technology.
    5 Sep 2013, 08:23 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » The new M7 chip (just unveiled in the iPhone 5S) could make a lot of sense in an iWatch or similar device:


    "The M7 and the new A7 processor both feel like Mansfield’s purview. And Mansfield and ex-Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch are rumored to be working on something at Apple — something that may have required the hiring of Nike+ guy Jay Blahnik. And what did Apple happen to demonstrate to show off the M7? A Nike+ Move app, an activity monitor that essentially turns your iPhone 5S into a Fuelband.
    Indeed, the iPhone 5S is already a wearable computer — or at least a testbed for one. The technology that could power your Apple wrist computer is shipping this month."



    PS: I will keep the comments updated with new developments/rumors to the iWatch.
    11 Sep 2013, 04:51 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Now I can say why I hedged my bets on NFC in the article, I wrote:


    " NFC (or a derivative of Airdrop) and 2D-barcode payment/coupon systems and access control systems, a low-power Bluetooth protocol,"


    Instead of using NFC, Apple seems to adopt Airdrop and the low-power Bluetooth protocol also known as "Bluetooth LE (Bluetooth Low Energy)" or "Bluetooth Smart".


    Apple's implementation on the latter in the physical world is "iBeacons" which could prove very interesting in an iWatch once coupled with a fingerprint sensor.


    More details in my Instablog here:

    12 Sep 2013, 06:19 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Samsung apparently scrambled to finish Galaxy Gear smart watch and beat Apple's rumored 'iWatch' to market:



    And it shows, see the mostly (very) poor reviews for the Galaxy Gear:

    2 Oct 2013, 12:54 PM Reply Like
  • Stock Harvest
    , contributor
    Comments (20) | Send Message
    Thanks tftf for the continued updates... any ideas on who are some of the companies that could be supplying components for this new wave of wearable technology?
    13 Jan, 10:23 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Hello Stock Harvest,


    One interesting company many obvservers talk about in the sensor field is INVN, but the stock had a huge run in 2013 already. There's also STM (but less of a pure play), the two are engaged in a legal fight.


    I wrote a short entry about INVN and SWIR in late 2013, both companies have interesting products for the "Internet of Things".


    As for glass, there are links to GTAT (partnership with AAPl since late 2013) in addition to the existing partner Corning (GLW).


    Most of these companies aren't pure plays (for example, GTAT makes of its revenue in the solar equipment space) and most had a big run in 2013 and are trading at elevated levels.


    I guess we will know more if AAPL indeed launches a product in the space in late 2014 (?).
    13 Jan, 11:04 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Another update on medical sensors, there's a pattern here:


    Apple continues hiring raid on medical sensor field as it develops eye scanning technology


    Example of biomedical industry’s work on blood sensors
    Apple is moving to expand its personnel working on wearable computers and medical-sensor-laden devices by hiring more scientists and specialists in the medical sensor field. Apple began work in earnest on a watch-like device late last decade, and it has worked with increasing efficiency and more dedicated resources on the project over the past couple of years. Last year, we published an extensive profile that indicated Apple has hired several scientists, engineers, and managers in the field of biomedical technologies, glucose sensors, and general fitness devices…




    Perhaps more interesting, Apple is also actively investigating iris scanning technology, according to sources. This information comes as a Samsung executive confirmed that Samsung is developing iris scanning technologies for upcoming smartphones. It is currently unknown if iris scanning to unlock a phone will arrive with the Galaxy S5 this year.

    17 Jan, 07:30 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » And another update:
    Rumored 'Healthbook' App for iOS 8 Suggests Significant Health Component to iWatch.
    It looks more and more likely this medical/fitness (plus many other things of course) tracker will actually launch later in 2014.
    31 Jan, 07:24 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » A good article discussing the traditional watch market and the difficulties for smartwatches:



    Besides, batteries/battery life remain a huge problem for smartwatches.


    AAPL might very well also do a wearable product worn on other body parts, maybe the more general term "wearable" is hedging the bets in this product category better.
    23 Mar, 03:22 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » An updated look at companies and execs in the mobile medical/fitness field bought by Apple:



    The plot thinkens for an introduction of a new HW device later in 214.


    PS: Also interesting are vein scanners used by Fujitsu, although Apple seems to have gone in a different direction so far:


    "Fujitsu smartphones to use palm-vein scanners in the future"

    16 Apr, 03:21 PM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Additional rumors on the iWatch:


    "Rumor: 'iWatch' to sport curved OLED touchscreen, Apple 'confident' and building up to 5M per month"

    6 Jun, 08:39 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Interesting is the high rumored production rate:


    " Apple appears confident of the new product. According to a parts manufacturer, it plans monthly commercial output of about 3-5 million units, which exceeds the total global sales of watch-like devices last year. "
    6 Jun, 09:13 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Swatch weighs in on smart watches again:


    "Swatch Waiting With Apple for Smartwatch Market to Grow"

    17 Jun, 09:48 AM Reply Like
  • Tales From The Future
    , contributor
    Comments (4076) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » Looks like we are getting into the final stretch, the WSJ usually has good sources:


    Apple Plans Multiple Designs for Smartwatch
    Wrist Device Will Include More Than 10 Sensors Including Ones to Track Fitness

    20 Jun, 07:58 AM Reply Like
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