As a journalist, I'm inundated with requests to cover wearable tech gadgets.
In one day alone last week, I received requests to review a new fitness watch, a camera that clips to your lapel, and even a shirt that connects to your smartphone to track your muscle tone and heart rate. Lately, I've felt like this tracking is getting a little out of hand, but interest in wearable tech is obviously fueling a new startup boom.
Yet, unlike the original iPhone, which debuted when android meant something on a sci-fi television show, the Apple Watch is nudging into this crowded category somewhat uninvited. Well, at least uninvited by companies like Pebble, Withings, Martian, and Basis, which was recently acquired by Intel. I can picture what some future society might look like. We might be wearing a smartwatch, a pair of goggles with an HUD, a fitness shirt, and maybe even a chip implant or two on our necks.
Unlike the old days when the iPhone could differentiate with better apps and a slick interface, the Apple Watch needs to provide some life-changing features for business and personal use. I like how we'll be able to wave the watch near our hotel room to gain access, and maybe even make purchases without having to pull out a smartphone.
The device will have to do much more than just provide this new functionality, however. In business, it will need to offer simple two-way video chats, which seems unlikely since there's no camera (although you can see a live view from your iPhone). It better be contextually aware, too. If you are arriving at a meeting, let's hope the Apple Watch can pop up a series of pictures of those in attendance with a brief summary of their role.
Judging from the specs and features, I'm also not seeing an easy way to share contacts with other Apple Watch wearers near you. There's a way to speak a message to send by text and possibly by email, but it's hard to say if you can carry on a conversation like you can with the Google Now service and ask for directions and then follow up with a question about the weather at your destination (that's not possible today with Apple Siri).
Other wearable tech startups, like Narrative, Sensoria Fitness, OMsignal, and Fitbit, might be a little nervous considering the Watch could replicate some of their main functions and even make those devices obsolete. There's a heartbeat sensor on the device and an activity sensor that knows when you sit or stand. You can share this data with friends in the office. There's a good chance someone will make an app for the Apple Watch that matches the features on many other current wearable devices.
Is there a silver lining for startups? The market is saturated with wearable devices, but we only have room for a few gadgets to wear during the day. There's no question Apple wants to capture this segment, but the company has not always moved in and taken over that easily. Microsoft's Xbox One and the Sony PlayStation 4 own the living room entertainment market; Apple TV is not exactly dominant. While the Mac has made recent headway in the business computing segment, Microsoft still rules.
Then there's the collective sigh of relief most wearable tech startups are making right about now. Yes, there's a new Apple smartwatch that could dominate the market in 2015. Yet, in typical Apple fashion, there's also a premium price, starting at $349. The Pebble costs just $150. If you pay $199 on a wireless contract for the iPhone 6 (and an iPhone is required), do you want to shell out another $349 for the watch?
I won't know if the Apple Watch has a chance to push out wearable tech from startups until I get a chance to test out the device along with others early next year. Until then, there's still a ripe opportunity for startups to make a wearable device that ends up on a wrist, behind an ear, or on a shirt collar. Soon, one hopes.