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Apple Watch: Where wear?

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Apple, as you probably know, has a conference every year. It's so popular, last year all the tickets sold out in seconds. This year they had to be dispensed via lottery - if you won, you got to buy a ticket! Basically, the conference is designed for and around developers in the Apple world, and workshops are run over several days, but it kicks off with an official Apple presentation at which new products are announced and/or launched.

Dub Dub Dee Cee (the Worldwide Developers' Conference: WWDC) has been running for decades and used to start with a Steve Jobs keynote; now that's handled by CEO Tim Cook. Last year the big news was iOS 7 and the new Mac Pro, both of which were shown off there for the first time to emerge a few months later in the flesh.

This year, the strongest rumour is for an 'iPhone 6', but there is still subdued speculation about a so-called 'iWatch'. You might remember that when rumours of this reached a certain point last year, competitors launched competing products. I always found this absolutely amazing: launching products to compete with a rumoured, and no actual, product!

Of course, Apple's never confirmed that it's working on anything in this space (Apple never comments, only announces when things are ready) but the Apple watchers have noted several moves that hint that indeed, Apple is working on ... something. It could just be a new iPod shuffle type thing that you wear as a watch, with watch functions (other iPods have had this capability in the past). It could be an app you use to monitor various health attributes, that you can use on your iPhone, iPod touch etc: Apple has been working on the next iPhone/iPad operating system, iOS 8 with its Healthbook fitness and health tracking application.

It could be an actual watch. But what would it do, apart from telling the time?

Apple keeps hiring people in the medical space, recently adding young Divya Nag to its workforce. She is known as a rising star in the medical device community, and Nag now works for Apple's in-house medical technology team. Apparently.

Nag co-founded Stem Cell Theranostics, a company focussing on technologies for testing new medicines for the market, and how drugs affect patients, and she also founded the Stanford-based StartX, an accelerator for medical technology-focused startups. Nag was recently named in Forbes' annual 30 Under 30 award.

What is she doing now at Apple? Who knows, but her experience is managing product launches, gaining FDA approval, and partnering up with existing healthcare industry behemoths, and she has experience in product testing.

You may recall that Apple has hired several other medical experts over the last two years, including former Nike FuelBand advisor Jay Blahnik.

Speaking of Nike, recently the whole Fuelband line was discontinued. Nike has long been innovative in this space so it was a bit of surprise. Around eight years ago, Nike partnered with Apple to make a sensor that went in (or on) a shoe and gave you feedback on your run, transmitting the information gathered to an iPod. It worked both ways - when you exerted more, the nominated 'power song' from your music collection kicked in.

But now Nike has decided to get out of the wearable technology market entirely, according to a brand-new report from CNET. The company is said to have come to the conclusion that fitness software has a more stable future at the company. That means no more FuelBand, and no other wearable fitness products. Gizmodo had noted that both the FuelBand in its first iteration and the second generation SE, which left much to be desired.

Most of the 70 employees currently working in that Nike division have now lost their jobs, but the software is a different story. To facilitate wider adoption of its fitness software, Nike will be opening an API for developers to integrate with the Nike+ service later this year. The closure was surprising as just a week before, Nike launched Nike+Fuel Lab in San Francisco, a "new program to develop partnerships and products with NikeFuel". That location is hundreds of kilometres south of its Oregon HQ. It's possible (and certainly not without precedent) that Nike will be, or is, working with Apple - or another San Francisco-based tech company.

Also, on the subject of Apple waiting to get something 'right', fully one-third of customers who bought a wearable device stopped using it within six months. Simple activity trackers fared even worse: 50 per cent of them are no longer in use. The research didn't find people from the early days of the smartphone saying that they'd abandoned their BlackBerry, Treo or Windows Mobile or Symbian phone after six months ... indeed, 41 per cent of people run, cycle and walk with their smartphones.

You can read about this on the Guardian.

The Guardian writer Charles Arthur noted "What does that presage for wearables? It may be that they are presently so primitive that it's no surprise that people give them up: they're too big, haven't discovered the killer app that we want out of them, and have battery life that is too limited."

My reading is that Arthur's right: wearable hasn't been ready. That's why, if Apple is indeed working in this space, the Inc is taking its time. Of course, Google is also working away in this space, with Android Wear.

It could be that in a couple of years we'll look back on this market like we do on the smartphone market. There were smartphones before iPhone - they just made hardly any impact.

Like it or hate it, iPhone fundamentally changed all that.

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