Following the announcement yesterday that an Apple smartwatch of curved glass may be in the works, Kevin Roose and New York Magazine rounded up such a device’s frequent appearance throughout history (in addition to the fictional ones worn by Dick Tracy, Inspector Gadget,and James Bond). The timeline stretches back to 1982, when Seiko tried to put a tiny TV on the wrist and was answered with dismal sales. Then there was the 1998 RuPuter, 2003 Microsoft SPOT, and the 2005 Fossil Palm OS, all otherwise remembered as market failure, market failure, and market failure.
The point of the article is clear (even beyond the dubious title, “Does Anybody Really Want an iWatch?”): the smartwatch is not a road Apple should go down. Since this go-go gadget’s been in the public consciousness for three decades now, and we’ve already established that the fastest way to make a million dollars on Kickstarter is to promise an Apple product on consumers’ wrists, there are reasons it hasn’t happened yet. We’d have to guess that the technology certainly exists by now — “Given that the iPod Nano is about the size of an overfed ant, the company clearly knows how to make small devices, too,” muses the New York Times blogger Nick Bilton — but Roose warns that “ancient technology” is too easy of a scapegoat. Instead he points to obvious conceptual flaws: immobility (as it’s stuck on the wrist), inability to fully replace any existing gadgets due to its limited size, and the fact that it can only be operated with one hand.
In addition to Roose’s qualms, my own lack of faith in the project stems from the seeming absence of Apple’s innovative spirit. It’s quintessentially anti-Jobsian to look at market trends and heed consumer demands. At the height of netbook popularity, for example, Steve Jobs delivered compact portability by giving the world something entirely new. Instead of the iNetbook he created the iPad, which forever changed household use of the word “tablet.”
In short, if the masses are clamoring for a wearable smart-something, don’t give it to them, because they’re idiots. And I’m paraphrasing Jobs himself here.
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups,” he said. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
BusinessWeek, May 25 1998
— Janelle Zara