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iWatch

Apple's smart watch may come in 2014

At a Glance

Apple's "iWatch" is a smart watch project that may finally arrive in late 2014. Expect a 'fashionable' device running iOS with biometrics and other features providing integration with other iOS devices.

Specs

  • 1.3/1.5-inch display
  • "Full" iOS
  • Biometrics and other sensors
  • 4-5 day battery life targeted
  • Late 2014 release
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What We Expect


Apple has been rumored to be working on its "iWatch" smart watch for a while now, but the company has begun accelerating work on the project as it tries to expand its family of mobile devices to the wrist. Apple has already started work on trademarking the name in a number of countries in preparation for a late 2014 launch.

Because we don't yet know what an Apple iWatch will look like, the photos we've included in the roundup are either mockups or existing non-Apple products. For example, the red watch at the top of the page is the Lunatik iPod nano watch.

Few specific details about the iWatch had been available, but new reports suggest the iWatch will have a flexible AMOLED display supplied by LG, which will come in two separate sizes, 1.3 inches and 1.5 inches, to accommodate different sized wrists.

A recent product outline from KGI securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested the iWatch could also be available at several different price points, pointing towards an array of different band and face options in various materials. At the high end, the iWatch could cost as much as several thousand dollars, according to Kuo.

In addition to serving as an accessory to the iPhone and the other iOS devices, giving users at-a-glance access to common functions and notifications, the iWatch is also expected to include several different biometric sensors.

The iWatch may be able to track health-related metrics like steps taken, calories burned, sleep quality, heart rate, and more. Apple is said to be aiming to make the health-tracking experience more accessible to the general public, so it remains to be seen how complex the included sensors will be.

Apple is reportedly designing iOS 8 with the iWatch in mind, and the two are said to be heavily reliant on each other for health-tracking purposes.

Though we don't know what the iWatch will look like, it is expected to have a durable sapphire crystal display. Apple recently signed a deal with GT Advanced that will see the company greatly ramping up its sapphire production.

The iWatch may debut in late 2014, possibly in September or October alongside the launch of iOS 8.

In More Detail

Rumors of Apple working on a smart watch first surfaced in a December 2012 report claiming that the company was working with Intel on a Bluetooth-enabled watch carrying a 1.5-inch OLED display. According to the report, the device was originally scheduled to launch in the first half of 2013.

The rumor mill remained quiet for a number of weeks following that report, but by early February 2013 reports began surfacing in the mainstream media and other publications claiming details on Apple's smart watch project. The flurry was led by a report from The New York Times claiming that Apple was working on a smart watch device running iOS and taking advantage of curved glass materials.

"I think the wrist is interesting. I'm wearing this (Nike Fuelband) on my wrist...it's somewhat natural. But as I said before, I think for something to work here, you first have to convince people it's so incredible that they want to wear it."

- Apple CEO Tim Cook at D11 Conference: May 28, 2013

Reports of a curved glass smart watch had included speculation that Apple could be using Corning's new Willow Glass as a material given its flexible nature and Apple's existing partnership with Corning for the high-strength Gorilla Glass used on Apple's mobile devices, but Corning president James Clappin indicated that the material had only just begun hitting the market and that it would take at least three years for complex components such as flexible displays using Willow Glass to reach the market.

Former Nike creative director Scott Wilson also revealed that he had sent Apple design chief Jonathan Ive a "ton" of Nike watches back in the mid-2000s, with Apple's staff following up with a number of questions about materials and processes related to the device, suggesting that Apple was indeed looking into the possibility of its own watch project at that time.

iWatch rumors have continued throughout 2013 and 2014 and most recently, Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo released a number of predictions for the device, pointing towards a late 2014 release date. According to Kuo, the watch will integrate with iOS devices, allowing users to receive notifications and access basic functions. He also supports the rumor that it will include a multitude of biometric sensors, coupled in a system-in-a-package design.

Apple's iWatch will offer a "fashionable design" according to Kuo, and could be available in multiple materials at different price points and in two separate sizes. Kuo suggests it will include wireless charging and possibly an NFC chip.

Building the iWatch Team

The first NYTimes report on the iWatch was quickly followed by a Bloomberg article revealing that Apple had a team of approximately 100 product designers working on the project. The size of the team, which was said to be at least partially under the leadership of senior director of engineering James Foster, suggested that the project was moving beyond the experimental phase.

In mid-April, it was reported that former Adobe executive Kevin Lynch, who had joined Apple as a vice president of Technologies the previous month, was heading up a team of engineers with experience on Apple's iPod projects, suggesting that the division may be involved with Apple's smart watch project.


Features under consideration include letting users make calls, see the identity of incoming callers and check map coordinates .... It would also house a pedometer for counting steps and sensors for monitoring health-related data, such as heart rates... Peter Burrows & Olga Kharif - Bloomberg

Apple then hired Paul Deneve, former CEO of French luxury label Yves Saint Laurent, to work on "special projects", with many speculating that his fashion background would make him a natural fit to work on wearables such as the iWatch. Financial Times followed that with its own report indicating that Apple has begun another round of hiring for the project, looking at acquiring smaller firms and moving to retain key employees already on the project.

Apple's hiring efforts were also detailed in a report from 9to5Mac, revealing how Apple pursued employees at a number of companies involved in biometrics and health sensors while noting that the wide-ranging iWatch team is indeed being headed by Senior Vice President of Technologies Bob Mansfield, Kevin Lynch, and James Foster, with other teams contributing as needed.

During the last few months of 2013, Apple hired two new sensor experts, who may be working on the iWatch. Nancy Dougherty, formerly at Sano Intelligence, worked on designing a device to measure blood chemistry through microneedles. Ravi Narasimhan, Apple's second hire, formerly worked at biosensor technology firm Vital Connect, where he served as a vice president of research and development, responsible for "biosensor technology and algorithms for remote physiological monitoring with wearable medical devices."

Apple has also hired Michael O'Reilly, M.D., the former Chief Medical Officer and EVP of Medical Affairs at Masimo Corporation, a company that specialized in pulse oximetry, and it has hired Roy J.E.M Raymann, a sleep expert from Philips Research. Before joining Apple, Raymann headed up several sleep-related research products studying sleep and activity monitoring.

Marcelo Lamego, former chief technology officer of Cercacor, has also joined Apple to work on biometrics. At Cercacor, Lamego worked on sensor-based medical technologies like those used in the Pronto-7, a non-invasive, portable device that measures hemoglobin, oxygen saturation, pulse rate, and more.

Further fueling rumors that the iWatch will include a number of health and fitness-related sensors, Apple recently posted a now-removed job listing for an exercise physiologist to oversee cardiovascular fitness and energy expenditure tests at its Cupertino campus.

'Slap Bracelet' Patent

In late February 2013, an Apple patent application surfaced revealing a new "bracelet" accessory with a wraparound display covering the entire outer surface of the device. While the word "watch" was not used anywhere in the filing, the idea of the "wearable video device" as a smart watch lent credibility to claims of Apple's interest in the area.

Features and Battery Life

In early March, another flurry of reports about Apple's iWatch plans arrived, with Bloomberg claiming that the device could include biosensors and mapping features and launch "as soon as" 2013. The Verge followed up with its own report claiming that the iWatch was indeed planned to run a "full" version of iOS rather than a simpler operating system such as that seen on the iPod nano.

In January of 2014, 9to5Mac reported that Apple is developing a new health-related app called "Healthbook" that it expects to launch as part of iOS 8. The app is said to be heavily reliant on the iWatch, serving as a way to aggregate data gathered from the health and fitness sensors in the device.

The report suggested that the iWatch will be able to measure statistics like glucose levels, movement and activity, heart rate, hydration, and more, but nothing concrete is known at the current time. Apple has also reportedly developed a way to combine several different sensors into a single, smaller chipset, but some reports have suggested that specific sensors, such as one that monitors glucose, may be too advanced for the first-generation iWatch.

As work on the iWatch continues, Apple is placing a significant amount of focus on expanding Siri's ability to interface with third-party apps to improve the number of tasks executable via voice command. It is possible that the iWatch will rely heavily on voice-based input via Siri due to the limitations of its size.

Trademark Applications

Public evidence of Apple filing for "iWatch" trademarks began to surface in June, first in Russia and later in Japan and a number of other countries. Apple's initial filing was apparently made in Jamaica in December 2012, but in early June the company began making much broader efforts to protect the name, although it will face competition from existing marks in a number of major countries including the United States.

Production Issues

Apple is reportedly working to overcome several issues with its iWatch development, which has hit snags in battery life, display technology, and manufacturing technique.

According to a report from The Information, battery issues caused Apple to consider a new screen technology for the iWatch in late 2013, though it is unclear whether Apple has indeed made a switch from OLED, the technology largely favored for the display in rumors throughout 2013. Early reports indicated that prototypes of the iWatch were seeing just one to two days of battery life, with Apple hoping to increase that duration to at least four or five days.

A report from The New York Times has indicated Apple is experimenting with a number of charging methods for the iWatch, including wireless induction charging, which would allow users to recharge their watches wirelessly, which has also been confirmed by KGI securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Wireless charging could make it easier for iWatch users to frequently charge their devices if Apple does not meet its battery life goals.

Along with wireless charging, Apple may incorporate LG's "stepped" batteries into the iWatch. Designed with a slight ridge, the technology increases a battery’s capacity by 16 percent over a standard battery. Stepped batteries can be made in a variety of shapes and such a design could help Apple eke out extra longevity in the iWatch.

Early iWatch production is said to be seeing low yields, primarily due to the surface finish treatments for the body of the device. Apple is reportedly using metal injection molding methods for the iWatch, with the surface treatments being used to improve the look of the device.

Concept Images

There have been no hints on what form factor Apple's iWatch might take on, but that hasn't stopped people from speculating. Several different iWatch concept images have surfaced, mimicking the design of existing products or adopting futuristic curved displays.

iwatch-concept-nike

iWatch concept by Todd Hamilton, based on the Nike Fuelband

iwatch1

Screen-centric iWatch concept by DesignerEI

iwatch-concept-moyano-wrist

iWatch as a life style device concept by Tomas Moyano.

Balogh-iwatch

Traditional watch-style iWatch concept by Gábor Balogh.

Release Date

In a recent product roadmap, reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted a third quarter launch date for the iWatch, which is in line with previous rumors. Supply chain sources have also pointed towards a late 2014 launch date, possibly in September.

iWatch Timeline

April2014
Roundup Last Updated
March2014
February2014