One of Apple’s defining corporate characteristics is “watch and wait” (okay, so I made a pun). They have rarely, if ever, been the first to market. Rather they watch the market and competition, cherry pick what works from what doesn’t, and then package it with minimalist flair and high-end construction.
In fact, when the company did try to be a market pioneer with the Newton they failed miserably. Lesson learned.
What I think we are going to witness is Apple’s transformation of the “quantified self” movement from quirky early-adopter status (“Count my footsteps during the day? Why would anyone want to know that?”) and lead by companies such as FitBit and Jawbone, later followed by Nike with their FuelBand, to mainstream.
Essentially Fitbit’s and Jawbone’s products are accelerometers encased in a wrist band, although the Basis Band has a few more sensors tacked on to make it interesting.
There are more than a few hints out there, such as this article on the team of experts Apple has put together to work on this project.
If you read through the specialties of the people on the team and then close your eyes (I recommend reading the list before you close your eyes, otherwise it’s going to be a bit difficult) an image of a small, perhaps wrist-mounted, fashionable device with a clear display appears.
But the real magic is within.
This will be a sensor-studded device which monitors its wearers’ vital signs day and night. I’m imagining a device that autonomously monitors pulse, respiration, perspiration, blood flow, glucose, temperature (ambient and skin), acceleration (and hence, movement), location and motion (via the M7 chip already found in the iPhone5S).
It will have some kind of low-power (and low range) communications protocol, and my guess would be BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy), with which Apple already has experience.
What to do with all this information? The contributions of fitness, health, and sleep experts, point to many possible applications of this technology from the obvious (sleep and fitness monitoring) to the sublime (replacing current medical monitors, gesture-based input device – think of a WII without the WII or a Kinect without the 3D camera).
Apple was just granted a patent for headphones that can detect head gestures and monitor their wearers' activity, temperature, perspiration, and heart rate. There are a ton of applications here, and the one that climbs to the top of my list is training (measure exertion, stress, vitals, head position – and therefore change a displayed image or animation – and give audio feedback).
Personally I would love to go out running with nothing other than lightweight Bluetooth headphones and a wrist-mounted device. No, shoes and shorts are not optional.
Considering the involuntary nature of the device, this may be the largest scale invasion of privacy ever concocted and adopted willingly by millions of people – also paying for the privilege.
Want a hint? Apple is known for camouflaged field-testing their devices. Next time you see Apple CEO Tim Cook, take a glance at his wrist. It’s a fair bet.