Remember that hard-hitting, fast-shooting, comic strip police detective Dick Tracy, who wore the wrist watch with a two-way radio? Now you can be like Dick Tracy too with your own smartwatch that lets you answer phone calls and keep track of how far you've walked.
OK, I'll admit I am far too young to remember when Dick Tracy sported his now iconic radio wristwatch in the 1940s comic strip. But for years, this idea of a watch doing more than telling time has seemed like a very cool idea that has found its way into other famous characters and their stories -- think James Bond and Inspector Gadget.
These "smartwatches" have been on the market for consumers for more than a decade. But they've never really taken off in any big way. But with a slew of new devices shown off this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, plus rumors that Apple may jump into the market, is 2013 finally the year of the smartwatch?
...Even though such devices have been around for some time, this category of product has not really hit the mainstream, as you point out in your question. And to some extent, I think the smartwatch is destined to always be a bit of a niche product category.
Why? Since the proliferation of cell phones, watches have stopped being a necessity. And for years they've been more fashion than function. As my good friend and CNET colleague Scott Stein wrote in a piece about turning his nano into a smartwatch, "In this day and age, watches are a novelty anyway."
That said, I think this could finally be the year that the smartwatch comes of age. In addition to all the new devices showcased at CES and the $10 million funding Pebble mustered on Kickstarter, there are rumors that Apple may launch its own smartwatch dubbed the iWatch. Business Insider reported in late December that Apple has partnered with Intel to develop an iOS watch. Supply chain sources reportedly told Chinese blog site Tech163.com that the watch would be Bluetooth-enabled and sport a 1.5-inch OLED screen. The reports said that the new iWatch could debut as early as the first half of 2013.
Right now, the possibility of an iWatch is still in the rumor stage. But this is a product category that Apple could easily move into and dominate. Apple fans have already been turning their older versions of the popular iPod Nano into watches. Accessory makers made bands so that users could put the small, square device on their wrists.
The Nano could play music, display photos, and keep track of fitness history. Apple bumped up the size of the 2012 Nano, so newer versions of the Nano can no longer serve as a watch. But there are plenty of people who have used these bands to turn their older Nanos into watches, including CNET's own Scott Stein. While Stein said he was impressed with how cool the Nano looked on his wrist and how easy it was to use as a watch, he said the fact that the device was not water resistant and had open ports could be problematic when used on a regular basis as a watch.
Still, it seems like Apple could easily adapt the technology and design of the Nano into a more ruggedized iWatch. If that happens, you can bet that the category will take off.
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