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Apple could redefine wearables

Chris Cottrell
March 9, 2015

The launch of Apple's much-touted smartwatch could invigorate the sluggish wearable tech market. But the company will have to strike a balance between utility and style to trigger awareness of wrist-worn mini-computers.

Apple Watch
Image: Reuters/S. Lam

Apple charted new territory when it unveiled its much-hyped smartwatch at an event in San Francisco, Calif., Monday. The device costs $349 for a base model, while a luxury gold version will go for $10,000.

It was the first brand-new technology Apple released since the passing of the company's iconic founder Steve Jobs in October 2011 and many believe the Apple Watch could shake up the listless market segment of wrist-worn computers.

Other smartwatch manufacturers, industry analysts and consumers are waiting to see if the trailblazing company, which just deposed AT&T to join the Dow Jones industrial average, can trigger awareness of wearable technology.

Wearables from major tech companies have sold poorly as consumers have yet to see how the benefits of using a mini-computer on one's wrist outweigh those of more common hand-held devices.

Apple Watch
Apple began teasing its new smartwatch at an event in Cupertino, Calif., last yearImage: Reuters/S. Lam

But new products from Apple have been the catalysts that ignited growth in niche sectors before. What the iPod did to revolutionize the MP3 industry, the iPhone did for smartphones and the iPad for tablet computers.

Wearables for health and fitness

Apple is a latecomer to the wearables game, as other smartwatch manufacturers have been capitalizing on a growing demand for health-tracking capabilities in their mobile devices for years.

Household names like Samsung, Google and Microsoft have created entire platforms to boost their market share in the healthcare and fitness industry.

Some big manufacturers, notably Huawei and LG, used their appearance at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, to roll out new devices that they hoped would set the tone for the wearables sector before Apple provided more details about its smartwatch on March 9.

The Huawei Watch
Onlookers caught a peek of the new Huawei Watch at the Mobile World Congress in BarcelonaImage: DW/C. Cottrell

As with all of its devices, Apple has been trying to ensure maximum utility and style. Striking that balance becomes even more important with the Apple Watch as it will not be hidden in users' pockets, but worn on their wrists.

Huawei, LG's new stylish watches

In Barcelona last week, China's Huawei surprised industry insiders when it introduced a sleek new smartwatch that resembled a high-end wristwatch more than it did a mini-computer.

With a polished display made of sapphire crystal and a thick stainless steel body, the Huawei Watch has appeared on Amazon.de with a price tag of 999 euros ($1,084). Although the company has not officially announced the timing of the new watch's availability or its retail price, the Amazone.de listing was from the company itself.

South Korea's LG has also unveiled a new smartwatch, the Watch Urbane, that has an integrated 4G chip allowing it to make cellular calls without being tethered to a nearby smartphone. Apple has made clear that users will have to own an iPhone 5 or later and keep it nearby in order to enjoy the full functionality of its new watch.

LG Watch Urbane
The LG Watch Urbane LTE also featured in Barcelona this yearImage: AFP/Getty Images/L. Gene

Battery life a big issue

Cook said that watch would be able to run for 18 hours on an average day without needing to be recharged, but some smartwatch makers have already come up with devices that would give the tech giant a run for its money in this area.

Pebble, a little-known startup that smashed a record on Kickstarter for the amount of money it raised in a micro-financing campaign from tens of thousands of backers, boasts a watch that can run for a week without needing to be recharged.

Pebble Smartwatch
Pebble has raised more than $17 million on Kickstarter for the development of its smartwatchImage: picture-alliance/AP

The Fitbit Surge, made by the popular fitness band maker, has also come out with a wrist-worn, time-telling health tracker that can measure a user's heart rate and has a battery lasting up to one week.

But the ubiquity of health apps on the Apple Watch and its rival devices could be an unwelcome development for makers of fitness bands such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike, if they find market traction.

Will the Apple Watch be a must-have device?

Speculation as to whether Apple can redefine an entire industry with its new smartwatch is reminiscent of the skepticism that preceded the launch of the iPad in 2010 - a device that has sold millions of units and usurped a major market share from traditional PC makers.

And without Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple faces immense pressure to prove that it can still push the envelope with its newest innovations.

The Apple Watch will allow a user to receive emails, phone calls and texts, track fitness information such as steps taken and speed and distance traveled. It will also allow users to access a variety of apps specially designed for the watch, such as Uber and Instagram.

There will be three different price categories and in each category, two sizes will be available. The least expensive, aluminum model - the Apple Watch Sport - will sell for $349 and $399, the mid-range Apple Watch for $549 and $1,099 and the 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition starts at a whopping $10,000.

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