06 March 2014

Hey Guys, Watch This

Apple is in trouble. Before the iPhone, it was a small time computer assembler, with little impact outside a few niche sectors. The iPhone changed all that, not least of which was morphing Apple from a computer company to a toy company. Not that anyone, Jobs possibly excepted (I don't have a cite one way or the other), understood this. Apple can continue to broaden the TAM by attacking second and third world markets, but they are second and third world incomes, and those currencies are notoriously manipulated. The right wingnuts bitch about debasing the buck, but the rest of the world still uses it as the reserve moolah of record. Apple doesn't get that protection anywhere else. Here, and Europe, Apple's getting very close to replacement mode. With no-contract plans becoming more common, even the iPhone folks will go over to the dark side and just keep the damn thing for years. Or until the battery dies. I expect to see reports that Apple batteries are, mysteriously, failing earlier and earlier. Innovation, or planned obsolescence, is the saviour of Apple?

The core reason Apple got rich off the iPhone was that it had a stranglehold on necessary components of touchscreens leading to, and for a period after, the iPhone's release. The iPhone offered features not available elsewhere. It turned out that the marketing machine of Apple convinced those with significant disposable incomes to covet those features. That was seven years ago, give or take. Time for the seven year itch.

Apple has always been a follower, not a first mover. Each of its successful products have been a bling-ified take on existing platforms. The few times Apple has gone first, it's fallen on its face. Can Apple continue to grow? Apple TV can't generate the revenue of iStuff, given that TV is held to the house, while iStuff are held to the person. The legendary iWatch is seen by most pundits as Apple's next iPhone, money spinning game and market changer.

Not likely.

There are a host of fancy watches out there. This isn't a case where Apple has (he says with trembling confidence) cornered the market on vital technology. High class/cost exercise/health watches, with digital displays, have been around for decades. The form factor isn't negotiable. Power isn't negotiable. Display, also likely, not negotiable. Most importantly, the iPhone didn't cannibalize other Apple products. It's been something of a juggling act, keeping the TAM of iPad and iPhone at arm's length. iPod clearly has taken it in the neck from iPhone. I doubt that Tim wants that to happen again. Thus, no iPhablet. So far. An iWatch which does something neat would likely chew into iPhone, even iPad. Tethered, aka Gear, isn't taking off, and standalone isn't either.

Smartwatches, per se, already exist, beyond the Samsung Gear. The Wiki includes a rather long list of existing smartwatches. Not anything like the landscape that Apple exploited with the iPhone.

As the NYT article points out, keeping enough juice in these devices is the main issue. For a watch to do what an iPhone 5S (or its cpu) does requires a 5S battery. That ain't gonna happen. The article goes on:
The biggest drawback to the Pebble Steel -- indeed, all smartwatches -- is charging. The Pebble requires charging every few days, and annoyingly uses a proprietary charging cable rather than standard Micro USB.

Well, yeah. Induction chargers have been around for years; my toothbrush runs on one, and a charger stand makes a lot of sense. Would simpler charging be enough to induce another reality distortion field around an iWatch? Not likely.

But it still comes down to: what tech monopoly can Apple depend on? Sapphire isn't much to hang your hat on. A super duper dense battery would permit, at least, long up times, but VLSI still can't (and likely, never will) put a 5S in a wrist sized package. And even if it could, Apple would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Apple needs to find a platform which exists, has a small but enthusiastic market, current primitive implementations, no Apple presence, and a tech moat that Apple can hide behind. I know of none. How about you?


wildroot4 said...

look at Phone Blocks. It may revive Motoro;a as a major manufacturer of cell phones

Anonymous said...

Good call. Thought I was the only one who believed this at my house.