3 Reasons Why Apple’s iWatch Will Be More Than a Wrist-Worn iPhone

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

One of the most highly anticipated products that are rumored to be making an appearance at Apple’s media event on September 9 is the so-called “iWatch.” As usual, expectations for the iWatch are incredibly high, due in part to the unbelievable success of the company’s previous hit products such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. However, while Apple’s new products always draw a high level of interest from the media and consumers, it can be argued that the iWatch will face an unprecedented amount of scrutiny.

Not only will the wrist-worn device be Apple’s first entry into the nascent smartwatch market, the iWatch will also mark the company’s first entry into a new product category since CEO Tim Cook took the reins from legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Jobs oversaw the debut of Apple’s last new category of products when the iPad was launched in 2010. Although the iPad mini was launched under Cook’s tenure in 2012, it can be reasonably argued that merely releasing a smaller version of an existing product does not qualify it as a new category.

Of course, this naturally raises the question: What will make the iWatch more than just a miniature iPhone for your wrist? While we obviously won’t know many of the features that will set the iWatch apart from Apple’s iPhone until the product is (hopefully) unveiled on September 9, various industry rumors as well as moves made by Apple have suggested that the iWatch will indeed be unlike any other product that the company has ever released.

Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images

Photo by Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images

1. Apple’s iWatch will be jewelry

There is plenty of evidence that — unlike the iPhone — Apple’s iWatch will be marketed as a luxury fashion accessory that just happens to do a lot of cool techie stuff. According to insider sources cited by 9to5Mac earlier this year, “the ‘iWatch’ will be positioned as a fashion accessory.” This claim was bolstered by several hires that Apple has made over the past year, including former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve and Patrick Pruniaux, former vice president for sales of Swiss luxury watch brand TAG Heuer.

More recently, sources cited by The New York Times claimed that the iWatch would feature a sapphire-covered display, an expensive and scratch-resistant material that has long been used by the luxury watch industry. PTT Research analyst Matt Margolis, who is well known for his extensive research on Apple sapphire manufacturing partner GT Advanced Technologies, recently uncovered documents that identified one of the sapphire components being produced at the company’s Mesa-based facility as belonging to the “articles of jewelry” category used by the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States.

Finally, Apple has also sent out signals that it is preparing to unveil a product aimed at the fashion world. According to a recent report from Reuters, editors from several prominent fashion publications have received invitations to Apple’s September 9 media event. While Apple has invited fashion media reporters to some of its previous events, many of the editors were first time invitees, suggesting that the company was looking to increase its profile in fashion media. If Apple is able to wow the fashion world with its iWatch, it would be a boon for the new product since one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the current crop of smartwatches is their clunky, unattractive design.

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of video stream)

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of video stream)

2. Apple’s iWatch will include new health-monitoring tech

Of course, Apple’s upcoming wearable device can’t just be an attractive piece of jewelry. In order to be a successful smartwatch, the iWatch has to be…well, smart. This means providing functions beyond those that are already widely available in smartphones, such as messaging, making phone calls, and playing music. Of course the iWatch could encompass those functions, just like the iPhone subsumed the iPod’s media playing functions, but it also needs to offer something different and compelling.

While it remains to be seen what all of the iWatch’s new functions will be, there is ample evidence that many of the device’s capabilities will be related to health and fitness. As documented by 9to5Mac, Apple has hired dozens of medical sensor and fitness experts over the past year. The iWatch is rumored to include multiple health and fitness monitoring sensors that will keep track of everything from a user’s heart rate to their sleep activity.

While the iPhone 5S features an M7 motion coprocessor that can function as a pedometer and provide other activity-tracking data points, a wrist-worn device that is naturally in contact with a user’s skin offers some fairly clear health-monitoring advantages over a smartphone that is typically kept in a user’s pocket or purse. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 features a heart rate monitor on the back of the device. However, a user must hold their finger over the monitor in order to get a reading. Obviously, it is far more convenient to have a device that doesn’t require a special interface to get a heart rate reading.

By being in constant contact with the user, the iWatch will also be able to provide a more accurate and holistic picture of a user’s health. Not surprisingly, the iWatch is expected to work closely with Apple’s HealthKit health data storage platform that will enable the data to be shared across apps or with healthcare providers. While there are smartwatches with some health and fitness tracking capabilities already on the market, insider sources who recently spoke with The New York Times suggested that Apple has developed new types of sensors that are even more accurate than existing technologies.

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/GettyImages

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/GettyImages

3. Apple’s iWatch will offer new mobile payments convenience

One of the many rumors circulating about Apple’s upcoming iPhone 6 models is that the devices will include a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip that will enable a new mobile payments system. According to sources recently cited by The Wall Street Journal, the iWatch will also include an NFC chip. This technology will allow both the new iPhone 6 models, as well as the iWatch, to function as digital wallets. While it may not seem like much of a difference, the ability to pay for a purchase with a device that is conveniently strapped to your wrist versus paying with a device that has to be extracted from your pocket could be a huge game-changer  in the mobile payments market. It should be pointed out that none of the existing digital wallet systems, including the Android-based Google Wallet system, has been widely adopted by consumers. Why not?

recent study conducted by market research firm Thrive Analytics found some surprising reasons behind digital wallets’ low adoption rate. Besides security concerns, the two other main reasons that consumers cited for not using digital wallets was “lack of usability vs. credit cards/cash (37 percent) and not being top of mind as a form of payment at the time of purchase (32 percent).”

A smartwatch that can be used as a digital wallet would appear to address both of these issues. Obviously, if a user has to dig into their pocket for their smartphone in order to pay for something, it’s easy to understand why they would opt to just pull out their credit card or cash instead. On the other hand, consumers may be more likely to use an easily accessible digital wallet that is already out and on their wrist. Similarly, the iWatch’s constant presence on a user’s wrist may also help put the mobile payments option at the top of their minds.

When it comes to technology, the importance of ease-of-use and convenience cannot be overstated. At the Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year, Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi noted that less than half of iPhone owners used a passcode before Touch ID was introduced on the iPhone 5S. However, after Touch ID was introduced, 83 percent of iPhone 5S owners used a Touch ID/Passcode to secure their devices. In other words, convenience led to higher usage rates. Apple’s implementation of a mobile payments system that allows the iWatch to be used as a payment alternative could lead to a similar boost in the number of consumers that opt to use digital wallets.

Fans of iOS-based smartwatches will hopefully not have long to wait before they can see for themselves what other unique features will set the iWatch apart from Apple’s other products. Apple will be hosting a media event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, California on Tuesday, September 9. For those not lucky enough to receive a personal invitation, Apple will be livestreaming the event on its website.

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