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The Verge's Apple 'iWatch' concept image. left; and Suunto Ambit, right. Photo / Supplied
The Verge's Apple 'iWatch' concept image. left; and Suunto Ambit, right. Photo / Supplied

OK, I'm not saying Apple is building a watch. But if you follow the rumours ... that's a rumour. And it's taken serious enough to get Samsung reportedly developing an 'Android watch'.

Given that it's still a rumour, and not an announcement, here's my take on it: if Apple does build a watch, it wouldn't be 'a watch'. Just like when Apple built a phone, it wasn't a phone: it was a computation and communications device with GPS and a camera, that could also handle calls. Those who were cell-phone fixated when the first iPhone appeared found reasons to criticise it as a phone, thereby missing the point. And it will be the same with any new Apple device.

My guess is that if Apple releases a 'watch', it will actually be the new iPod shuffle or nano. Just like Apple experimented with watch-style straps for the previous little nano, and has offered various clips on the smaller iPods for a number of years for attaching to your clothing, bag or whatever takes your fancy, why not simply integrate a new tiny iPod into a a wearable - as per a watch - device? No reason at all.

Especially since iPods have been in steady decline for the last few years, with most people using their iPhones for everything including as music players. Why not simply make it into a complete form factor that is wearable, waterproof and integrates into your other Apple stuff?

If so, I can almost guarantee that watch aficionados will criticise it as 'a watch'. So will some watch manufacturers - but it will be a wearable iPod with access to iPod features: songs, perhaps voice navigation and hey, if you glance at it, you know what the time is. It might even have GPS. I think this would all be very handy (or should that be 'wristy'?).
I haven't had a watch myself for ten years, but recently I bought a Swatch. It's fine, it tells the time and I like the way it looks. But it has two extra buttons besides the one that lets you change the time and date. One makes a little arm spin for 20 per cent of a little extra dial. Push it again and it does the other 40 per cent. The other just resets the little dial hand plus the minute hand exactly to 12 o'clock. I have no idea what purpose either thing serves, and the Swatch site doesn't help. The person in the shop didn't know what they were for either. Everybody else just looks at it and shrugs. This really annoys me. I do prefer understanding what things are for.

It's clear Apple can design things well. I have been looking at 'smart' watches lately - things with GPS and tracking, exercise abilities. They're often hard to use, don't support other iDevices all that well and boy, are they clunky. I mean, maybe they won't look so clunky on Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he and I don't share the same physiques. In fact, I'm pretty sure he has at least two of my physiques. Combined. Plus muscles.

The Suunto Ambit watch, for example, is pretty good looking. In fact, it recently picked up an award from Good Design, along with the Suunto Core Alu. This award is organised annually by The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design in cooperation with the European Centre for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies.

I do really like the strap - the clasp design is ingenious, and very easy to use and strong. But the watch is large and sticks up high enough to catch on things and is a bit of a struggle under anything with a fitting cuff.

Starting it up, having charged it via a USB cable with a four-pin clamp on the watch end, you have to stand outside and wait 60 seconds for it to find your GPS location. In my case, once it did so, the watch face also cheerfully volunteered the words 'Poor Accuracy'. Turning Maps on my iPhone on at the same time, I had a blue dot to within a metre of where I was standing in 1 second.
The Ambit sort of supports connection to PCs: there's software for Mac and for Windows.

These let you configure the watch to some extent, and at least auto-sets the correct time (since it wiped that when it ran out of charge). This is a lot easier and less frustrating than trying to do it on the watch, since the instructions are far from intuitive.

Perhaps more strangely, there's a Suunto app for iPhone. This also found my GPS location as quickly as Apple's oft-maligned Maps did, and with the same accuracy.

The Movescount iPhone app from Suunto tracks your outdoor moves in activities such as running, cycling or trekking. It supposedly shows you where you're going, how fast and how far. If you plan your routes on the linked Movescount site, you can "make sure you don't get lost", which could be irrelevant in suburbia, maybe, but the Suunto watches are for rugged outdoors people: mountaineers, divers, marathon runners and rocket surgeons. 'Every Move is automatically stored on your Movescount account.' The strange part is that the free iPhone app doesn't require the expensive watch - but then, it didn't track my trip, either. I don't know why.

But the application is free and available in 11 languages. The watch, however, costs over NZ$700 retail. It seemed to take me hours to set the thing up, and then I went cycling and it didn't do anything because starting it tracking turned out to be a lot less simple than pressing the Start button. Doh! It's worse than trying to use a PC when you're used to Macs (and vice versa). Honestly, the thing made my head hurt. At least I burnt some brain energy.

I regularly cycle with my iPhone in my back pocket, with an app called B-iCycle turned on. This morning, I rode 13.8kms at an average speed of 16kph, burnt 562 calories, climbed 154 metres and hit a maximum speed of 17.8kph. Quite acceptable for an old bloke on a single-speed, although I've seen tracks of older blokes doing much more impressively (go, you guys!). My point being, the iPhone achieved all this very easily, plus mapped it on another screen, plus emailed the results to one of my accounts, plus created a kxt file I can open in Google Maps to show my route. All for the simple matter of turning it on, having set my weight and bike type in the settings, and turning it off again at the end of my ride.

I'm sure the Ambit deserves its accolades when properly set up. I'm sure rocket scientists and brain surgeons into fitness really love these things.
But for the rest of us - I hope Apple does make a watch.

- NZ Herald

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