Three ways to imagine an Apple 'iWatch'

Speculation is rampant about an Apple smartwatch. Here are three possible concepts.

Rumors have ramped up this week that Apple is developing an "iWatch." The success of wearable technology like the Nike Fuelband, and demand for the Pebble, the Kickstarter-backed smart watch, have fueled the speculation.

It's a logical move for Apple, which could use a new device to generate buzz and drive revenue. The iPhone and iPad are still selling almost as fast as Apple can produce them, but it will be hard to sustain growth and relevance by pushing out annual, incremental updates to them.

If Apple is working on some sort of intelligent watch, what exactly would it be? Here are a few concepts to consider.

1. A standalone iWatch

Following in the footsteps of the iPod Nano-as-watch, Apple could simply develop a more capable version of the iPod Nano, engineered to be worn on the wrist.

People turned the iPod Nano into a watch by creating innovative watchbands for the music player. Apple embraced the movement by incorporating a variety of watch face options into the iPod Nano, but then it created a new iPod Nano model that's a different shape and breaks its functionality as a watch.

The iPod Nano has an MP3 player and an FM radio, photos, a clock, and Nike+ fitness capabilities. Apple could incorporate GPS or Wi-Fi into such a small gadget to greatly enhance the functions. An Apple iWatch could handle maps and navigation, and allow people to connect with and check in on social networks like Facebook or FourSquare.

2. An extension of an iPhone

Rather than trying to build all of that functionality into a watch itself, Apple could make a watch leverage the power of the iPhone. An iWatch could be paired via Bluetooth with an iPhone and act as a wireless portal to a variety of iPhone functions, without making you take the smartphone out of your pocket or purse.

I suggested almost a year ago (about a month before the Pebble project took off on Kickstarter) that Apple should build on the iPod Nano-as-watch concept. It would be especially cool if an iWatch displayed maps and navigation information from the iPhone, or if you could push a button on it to query Siri. 

One of the reasons there's so much excitement about the Pebble is that it does things that people wish the iPod Nano-as-watch could do. The Pebble connects to an iOS or Android device, and it can leverage smartphone-based apps to provide functionality through its e-paper display. It has the potential to display alerts and notifications, emails, incoming call details, social network status updates, weather information, and more from your smartphone via the Pebble on your wrist.

Engineering a device that lies somewhere between the iPod Nano and the iPod Touch, but  can pair with and leverage the capabilities of the iPhone, is a logical direction.

3. A replacement for the iPhone

Let's be bold. The iPod Nano-as-watch has already been done. The smart watch as a Bluetooth extension of smartphone technology already exists through third-party devices. What if Apple just leapfrogs everyone, and disrupts the entire smartphone market (again) by creating a smart watch that effectively replaces the iPhone?

Many people who have a smartphone also have a tablet, yet there's significant overlap in their features and functionality. Since a tablet can already perform all of the smartphone functions (and then some), aside from voice calls, a wearable smartphone that has key elements of an iPhone but can easily place and receive calls would be the sort of revolutionary device so many expect from Apple.

For now, it would be virtually impossible to truly match the capabilities of an iPhone in a wristwatch; it's simply too small to house the storage, battery, and other technologies necessary. However, what if Apple included cellular functionality and enough of the core functionality of a smartphone, so that an iWatch effectively replaces the need for an iPhone?

Of course, Apple may not be working on an iWatch at all. The mythic Apple TV has been rumored for years, with no sign of it coming any time soon. Still, Apple could shake things up with any of these three concepts, or perhaps some combination thereof--like a wearable smartphone that can also pair up with an iPhone or iPad for extended capabilities. We'll have to wait and see.

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Tony Bradley

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