The impending arrival of the iWatch, as it has been dubbed, has been rumored for many months. However, there’s absolutely no official proof such a device is in production, or planned by the firm. Instead, rumors, leaks, and a mountain of circumstantial evidence is piling up around Apple making a move into wearable tech, potentially starting with a watch. Will it be the product to silence those who say Apple can no longer innovate? Here’s everything we’ve heard so far about the iWatch.
Updated on 02-03-2014 by Andy: How will you charge the iWatch? Apple is rumored to be working on wireless, solar, or even kinetic systems.
When did all this watch talk start?
Amazingly, iWatch rumors can be traced back to the end of 2012, when a Chinese site indicated Apple was building a smart watch with a 1.5-inch OLED screen, which would connect to the iPhone. An early 2013 launch date was provided, which obviously didn’t come true.
The next round of meaningful rumors began in February 2013, when both Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal discussed Apple’s interest in a “Wristwatch-like” device. At the time, Apple had a team of around 100 people working on the project, including software and hardware engineers and a marketing team. This suggested the device had moved beyond the concept stage and was being primed for release.
A report around the same time from the New York Times said the watch would run Apple’s iOS mobile software, and differentiate itself from the competition by using curved glass.
Apple assembles a team, Mission: Impossible style
If the iWatch project is as important to Apple as we’re led to believe, it must have a crack team of geniuses working on it, right? The members of Apple’s very own IMF team has been the subject of much speculation, equalling talk of the watch itself. In July last year, 9to5Mac reported that Apple’s Bob Mansfield was heading up the team, assisted by VP Kevin Lynch and James Foster.
iWatch could be covered in Corning’s super flexible Willow Glass. It’s so strong, Corning says it can be wrapped around a device.
French website MacG.com added that other team members on the project also worked on the iPod. Of all Apple’s previous products, the sixth-generation iPod Nano is the closest it has come to releasing a wearable device.
There are two other notable names attached to the project – unofficially, of course. The first is Jay Blahnik. Fitness expert Blahnik joined Apple in August 2013, having previously worked on the iOS-only Nike FuelBand, and sources told 9to5Mac he would be assisting the iWatch team.
The other interesting addition to the Apple family is Paul Deneve, who once headed up Saint Lauren Paris. He joined Apple in July 2013, and in a statement it was revealed he would be working on unnamed special projects. As style is going to be paramount to the iWatch’s success, this could be that special project.
At the beginning of January 2014, Apple went on a health kick, and reportedly snapped up two health tech experts. The first, Nancy Dougherty, worked on a Bluetooth-enabled Band-Aid for Sano Intelligence, which can monitor heart rate, breathing and body temperature. The second name is Ravi Narasimhan, formerly of Vital Connect, which also makes a wearable sensor to monitor your vital signs. As fitness and health is rumored to play a part in the iWatch’s feature list, these could be two new additions to Apple’s team.
The iWatch has also been linked with engineers who worked on the iPhone 5S fingerprint sensor and experts on miniaturization and power efficiency. Apple’s design expert Jony Ive is also said to be heavily involved.
What’s the tech going to be like?
We’ve heard about the people working on the iWatch, but what will the watch be like? For much of this we must rely on analyst predictions and speculation. Sizes ranging between 1.3-inches and 1.5-inches have been put forward as possible iWatch stats, as has a much larger 2-inch screen.
According to a Korean news source, LG was awarded the contract to produce the screens for Apple’s iWatch. Apparently measuring 1.52-inches, the screens will be P-OLED displays, which is the same technology used on LG’s G Flex flexible smartphone. Mass production is said to begin after July, which makes a late September onwards announcement seem possible. The usual supply constraints are also mentioned. It’s all far from official though, and the article was pulled from the website after publication.
The watch could also be covered in Corning’s super flexible Willow Glass, which is thin and flexible enough to be used on curved displays, has been specially designed for touch screens, and is compatible with OLED panels. It’s so strong, Corning says it can be wrapped around a device. Patents from Apple showing curved screens have been spotted in the past.
However, Willow Glass isn’t the only option for keeping the iWatch’s face free from scratches and damage. Apple’s recent deal with makers of sapphire crystal panels, GT Advanced, means it’s in a prime position to use the almost indestructible material instead. A document has been uncovered which seems to show Apple and GT Advanced’s new factory in Mesa, Arizona will start operating in February.
There’s no confirmation it’s going to produce screens, but the so-called Project Cascade is going to produce a, “Critical new sub-component of Apple products.” The use of the word new suggests it won’t be anything to do with Apple’s current use of sapphire – the camera lens cover and TouchID sensor on the iPhone – though. Working with sapphire crystal is time-consuming, meaning any product which relies on GT Advanced’s component is many months away from release.
Wireless charging may be essential
Patents hint at flexible battery packs, while a Forbes contributor says wireless charging will be an essential part of making the iWatch usable because the inevitable color display will eat through the unavoidably small battery. In a report published by the New York Times, anonymous sources indicated Apple has been experimenting with “Magnetic induction,” or wireless charging, for the iWatch. Apple’s tech would potentially use the same method seen on several Nokia smartphones, where the device is placed on a special mat, which then charges without the need for cables.
Apple apparently hasn’t settled on wireless charging, and may also be looking at both solar and kinetic charging. These have been used in watches before, but the increased power demands of a smartwatch could mean they will supplement a wirelessly charged battery, helping the device last through the day.
More than one version is possible
A Korean news source says Apple is developing three different versions of the iWatch – which may explain why no-one can agree on the screen size – perhaps so it can provide a model suitable for men and women separately. The report also talks about the watch having a flexible OLED display.
Speculation, and not fact, has brought up talk of a fingerprint scanner just like the iPhone 5S, along with the inclusion of NFC for wireless payments and syncing. While they’re possibilities, the inclusion of Siri may be more likely, if only to make it easier to use the small screen. However, would this involve the watch running a full version of iOS? A cut down version for use on the wrist makes more sense.
Of course, we can expect fitness and health tracking to play a part, along with sleep analysis, and all the usual notification and music controls we’ve seen on existing smartwatches. All of this is made possible by Bluetooth Low Energy. Finally, we’re not sure whether the iWatch will end up being able to make calls. If so, it may follow the Galaxy Gear and include a microphone and speaker, rather than a SIM card slot.
What has Apple said about all this?
This is where the rumors become something more. Apple CEO Tim Cook is to blame. At the D11 conference in May he called the wrist “interesting” when talking about wearable technology, but dismissed the idea of smart glasses like Google Glass. He continued, “I think the wrist is somewhat natural,” and that the wearable market was “Ripe for exploration.”
Cook has also talked about what’s coming in 2014, saying the company big plans for the year that “Customers are going to love.” Will the iWatch be one of these products?
When is it going to be released?
If you’ve followed the story, then you know the iWatch has been expected since early last year. Since it hasn’t materialized, production may not be going smoothly. This is backed up by reportssaying less then 50 percent of models assembled actually work, thanks to problems making the tiny devices reliable, and that the battery has been causing headaches.
In August 2013, DigiTimes claimed that the iWatch was scheduled for launch during the second half of 2014. An analyst pegged the price at around $150 to $230, calling it an iPod replacement rather than a smartwatch. With more than a half year between us and the watch (at least), we’re sure to hear plenty more about it, so check back for regular updates.
Updated on 01-30-2014 by Andy: A document has been uncovered suggesting a joint Apple/GT Advanced manufacturing plant will start producing sapphire components in February. Could the panels end up on the iWatch? Also, Apple has reportedly been hiring health technology experts.
Updated on 01-20-2014 by Andy: A news source states LG has won the contract to product the iWatch screens, which will be 1.52-inch P-OLED displays.