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TECHNOLOGY- Can Apple Make Wearable "Cool"?

Summary: While the new smartwatch from Apple looks good, experts says it is far from a revolutionary product.

It was almost certain that apple would launch a new smartwatch on september 9, along with the iphone 6. leaks and rumours of the new gadget, dubbed the 'iwatch' began doing the rounds many months ago and techies had already begun debating whether it would be 'the' smartwatch, the one that would finally rouse the struggling wearable industry.

so after unveiling the iphone 6 and the iphone 6 plus in a glamourous ceremony, when apple ceo tim cook said, "one more thing..." followed by a pregnant pause, the audience hushed in silence and giddily awaited as cook revealedthe company's latest innovation, the 'apple watch'.

the new watch, which has to be paired with an iphone, allows users to receive all notifications on their wrists, while also offering a range of apps and messaging features.

it can also function as a musicplayer, a fitness tracker with heart-rate measurements and will feature the apple pay option, the company's new nFc- enabled mobile payment system.

in terms of design, the watch has a rectangular touch screen, a scrollable crown on the side and comes with stylish and colourful straps.

set to launch in early 2015, it willbe available in three options: standard, with a stainless steel case; sport, in lightweight aluminum; and a special gold edition.

"i was honestly expecting morefrom apple," said ashish panjabi,coo of Jacky's Group, a Dubai-based electronics retailer. "the digital crown was innovative though we're yet to see how it works. But apple really didn't demonstrate how the watch is different from the smartphone."

according to panjabi, at least on the surface the apple watch replicates most smartphone features and uses.

"it could be a case of app developers getting creative and showing us unique case models of how the watch can be used but we've yet to see that," he said. "What I did like though was the accessories that come with the watch. Apple has played around with this smartly and it shows how you can personalise your watch to an extent to match your mood."

Saad Elkhadem, research analyst at research firm IDC MEA agrees that the watch simply didn't live up to the high expectations people had of it.

"Many vendors such as Motorola, Samsung, and LG have been churning out smartwatches using Google's Android Wear platform for some time now. While with each iteration we seemed to be getting closer to why you need one, we are still far away from making it go mainstream," he explained.

The worldwide wearables market is expected to reach a total of 19.2 million units in 2014, triple the number fromlast year, according to IDC. The company predicts that the market will further hit 112 million by 2018.

While Apple's new watch was hoped to kick start that growth, the new watch wasn't a revolutionary product, Elkhadem opined.

"The Apple Watch's functions are quite similar to those devices alreadyout there albeit with Apple's own flare. The device does look good and its list of customisation helps it stand out from the crop of competitors," he said.

The main drawback, according to both Panjabi and Elkhadem, is the battery life on the device.

"Most smartwatches struggle to lasta day and the Apple Watch looks to be no different. There are only so many products you can charge at once in a socket and since you can't use the watch without the phone, the watch may lose out," stated Panjabi.

The hefty price tag - starting at $349, is also a concern, with some reports suggesting that the 18-karat gold edition could cost anything between $1,200 and a whopping $4,999.

According to Nicolas Girot, founder of Sport In Life Distribution, the Apple Watch tries to encapsulate too many tools in an attempt to revolutionise watchmaking, when consumers can experience a higher quality of functionality from other products on the market.

"For example, it targets sport enthusiasts with the in-built heartrate monitor, motion sensors and a special 'sporty' collection, but many consumers can avail innovative gadgets from renowned niche brands thatoffer functionality without the needfor constant recharging or a heavy dependence on the iPhone to harmonise the functions of its applications," he elaborated.

But despite failing to 'revolutionise' the segment, as hoped, the watch will perform well, predicts Elkhadem.

"Apple builds great products and even greater marketing around them. If any company were to succeed in bringing the smartwatch to the masses, it is and will be Apple. The device will surely be a success when it drops in early 2015, and other non-Apple vendors will surely benefit from the raised awareness as well."


The current GCC market for smartwatches and wearables isn't very strong, according to Elkhadem.

"Look around you, chances are that you will not see someone wearinga smartwatch as they are yet to be convinced why they might need one. Samsung, the current leader in the smartwatch segment, has advertised heavily and released a slew of devices with limited success," he said.

Panjabi concurs that for the segment to grow, there has to be a need for it, not just a want.

While Apple did showcase a few useful tasks that can be done with its watch, such as opening a hotel door, locating a car, and making payments, the success of the watch will depend on its app developers, experts predict.

But, despite only a nascent wearable industry in the region, the Apple Watch should sell well here, says Panjabi.

This is not just because of the region's obsession with bling, which is certain to help Apple offload a significant chunk of its gold watches here, as many have said.

"We've got a consumer who is fairly tech savvy and has an appetite to invest in technology," Panjabi concludes.


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Publication:Gulf Business
Date:Oct 13, 2014
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