Why Wearable Computing?

The rumor mill has recently been abuzz about an Apple iWatch. Apple will never release an iWatch. It makes absolutely no sense. A computer-watch fails to realize the fundamental value of wearable computing.

Wearable computing is supposed to reduce the friction between you and your computer. Let's look at friction between you and the computer during each of the major computing eras. In particular, think about the marginal friction reduction between each generation and about the new application opportunities each platform presented:

Mainframes: only used by big businesses, governments, and universities. If you wanted to use one, you had to have privileged access, or sign up to schedule a turn to get access.

Desktops: you can fit one on your desk. So you had to go to your desk to access it. Desktops brought computing to the masses.

Laptops: you can fit it one your travel bag. And on your lap. But still, you can't use a laptop when you're out and about. Laptops brought computing into classrooms, onto college campuses, and into most stationery facets of life.

Capacitive multi-touch smartphones: you can fit one in your pocket. Which means you can access it everywhere you go. Every time you want to compute, you have to pull your smartphone out of your pocket. Smartphones opened up a whole new world of computing on the go.

Apple iWatch: goes on your wrist. Accessible by turning your head down and holding your arm up. The screen will be extremely small. The iWatch won't have any new hardware sensors that your smartphone doesn't already have. There could be interesting opportunities if a lightweight Kinect was integrated into the iWatch, but that won't be feasible before 2015, if not later.

Google Glass: goes on your face. The friction to compute is reduced to saying "Ok Glass". Glass will open up enormous new opportunities in serendipitous computing, and computers that can take advantage of seeing what you can see. Just imagine layering a lightweight Kinect on top of Glass…

The problem with the iWatch is that it just isn't that much better than a smartphone. Sure, you don't have to put your hand in your pocket, but is putting your hand in your pocket really that bad? No. So if you're going to invest in something in addition the smartphone in your pocket, it needs to be an order of magnitude better in ways that a smartphone can never be.

The real question is, what is Apple's strategy going to look like in the wearable computing world? Google is launching the largest platform beta ever delivered on a revolutionary new UI. Google is positioning itself as the leader, and is pushing developers to commit to Google's platform early. They're doing exactly what they should. I'm sure Apple is working on a set of glasses. I just don't think it serves Apple's best interests to wait until the product is finished before unveiling it. Apple needs to get developers on board today. They cannot afford to be 2nd in a new technology market. Their business model doesn't accommodate it.