While many fans of all things Apple wonder when — or if — the Cupertino company will create an iTV, there is growing speculation its engineers are working on a wrist computer.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is the latest to weigh in on an Apple watch. In a note to investors Wednesday, Munster wrote that he expects the company to participate in the growing trend of wearable computers that act as watches and more.
Apple might have given a hint of its direction in 2010, when the late Steve Jobs joked at the launch of the now discontinued postage stamp-size iPod nano media player that one of the company’s board members planned to wear it as a watch. Industry insiders saw the not-so-off-the-cuff remark as a glimpse of what the Cupertino company views as a possible gadget in the future.
It instantly created a small industry of nano wrist band designers. When Apple gave the digital music player a refresh last fall, though, it changed the nano design, moving away from the square-shaped device to a long, narrow one that would not fit on a wrist.
Still, Munster believes wearable watch-like computers will be a major trend in the future and Apple is apt to participate in it.
“We believe that longer term (over the next 10+ years), wearable computers could eventually replace the iPhone and smartphones in general,” he wrote. “We believe technology could progress to a point where consumers have a tablet plus wearable computers, like watches or glasses, that enable simple things like voice calls, texting, quick searches, navigation, etc. through voice control.”
In the short term, an Apple computer watch could be a companion device to the iPhone.
There are plenty of smart people in tech already looking for the next big small thing. In 2011, I wrote about companies like Los Altos-based WIMM Labs, which makes a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi-enabled computer watch. The startup, which received funding from Apple-product maker Foxconn in Taiwan, announced last summer that it had ”entered into an exclusive, confidential relationship for our technology and ceased sales of the Developer Preview Kit.”
Tim Twerdahl, vice president of product marketing at WIMM Labs, said gadgets like its WIMM One were not designed to replace smartphones and tablets. Rather, they are digital sieves that enable users to sift through the clutter of apps, emails, text messages and phone messages they are bombarded with every day to quickly get the info they need immediately, he said.
“There is a need for people to get instant access to their critical information,” Twerdahl said.
San Jose-based startup Smart Monitor is using motion-detecting technology to create wrist devices that would alert caregivers or parents of a patient’s or child’s seizure or tremors.
Munster believes Apple could weigh in with its own watch in 2014 or later.
“We expect Apple could profit from the trend in two ways,” he wrote. “First, the company could create products for consumers, like the watch. Second, we believe the company could expand its MFi program that licenses hardware manufacturers the ability to make products that connect to iOS devices. While we don’t believe the watch itself is something that will excite investors, we believe the trend offers future revenue potential beyond the iPhone/iPad franchise.”