Let's be clear right from the off: At this point, there is no Apple iWatch. Besides Apple CEO Tim Cook smiling beatifically over the pond at the State of the Union address (sans smart watch, apparently), Apple has made no public announcement about plans for the wearable technology. But that hasn't stopped the rumour mill, of course.
If those reports are true, though, it appears that Google's Android-powered glasses will go up against Apple's wrist-worn iWatch. "I think the reason they are working on an iWatch is that eye-glasses have already been invented," one commenter quipped on a New York Times story about an Apple smart watch.
Apple isn't committed to building an iWatch, according to the NYT; instead, it's being characterised as an "experiment." Of course, if Apple did make an iWatch, it would just be reinventing the wheel. Microsoft first unveiled the Smart Personal Objects Technology (Microsoft SPOT) a bit less than a decade ago; the technology didn't pan out because of the lack of applications and concerns about battery life. Now, the thriving market of Android and iOS apps could theoretically fill that niche.
Of course, numerous other players have also recognised the opportunity, and already fill the niche. A couple of years ago, Google's own hardware shop, Motorola, stepped in with the MotoRazr exercise watch, which was optimised for getting your heart rate pumping.
The big cheese in the smart watch market at the moment is the much talked about Pebble, which is designed to do for the iPhone and Android what its cousin, the inPulse, was supposed to do for the BlackBerry. (Hint: It didn't.) After a decade or so of pooh-poohing the watch ("What do I need that for? I have a cell phone!") techies are now apparently expected to strap a piece of white plastic around their wrist. Why? Because it’s a status symbol. You can't see that you forked over hundreds of pounds for the latest hardware when it's in your pocket – but you can when it's on your wrist.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the current rivals to Apple’s potential iWatch effort, and how they stack up. Note that not all of these are on sale just yet, and not all of them are available in the UK – but some of the US pieces of tech can be shipped across here (for a fee, naturally). Okay, on with the watch parade…
The I'm Watch is basically an Android device for your wrist. It runs what the company calls its Droid 2 operating system; it's actually just an ancient version of Android (1.6) that's been tweaked beyond all recognition. This watch is all about apps, and it supports features like on-demand music and cloud connectivity. It has a 1.55in, 240 x 240 colour display, and comes with 4GB of built-in storage. It's powered by a 450MHz Atom 9 processor and 128MB of RAM. Apps like Facebook, Twitter, the news, and a calendar are all pretty cool to have right on your wrist, but it'll cost you: The basic colour version of the I'm Watch starts at £299, and the company sells blinged-out models that go for up to £13,000 (white gold with diamonds).
The MetaWatch has been out for a little less than a year at this point, but the company has been making smart watches and their predecessors for more than a decade. MetaWatch smart watches connect via Bluetooth 2.1 and 4.0 to Android phones (v2.3 and up), the iPhone 4S, and the iPhone 5 running iOS 6. You can buy six basic models with a 96 x 96 LCD display in various colours for $179 to $199 (£115 to £130), and a Susan Kare Limited Edition will set you back $299 (£195). Shipping to the UK runs around $50 (£30) or so.
The Martian Watch is all about voice control, and it uses Bluetooth to let you know who's calling, and to answer calls, connecting either to your iOS or Android phone. It can even read back text messages while you're driving. Martian looks like a real watch, albeit with a small text display in the bottom left corner. Vibration and a small blue light alerts you to incoming calls and texts; you can also push the voice command button to use Apple's Siri, for example. This model will retail from $179 to $229 (£115 to £150).
The highest profile smart watch out there right now, the Pebble watch features a 1.26in, sunlight readable, black-and-white e-paper display with 168 x 144 resolution. E-paper isn't the same thing as E-ink; it's an LCD variant with a 30 frames per second refresh rate that lets the Pebble use lots of cool, smooth animations. Designed with an active lifestyle in mind, the Pebble is water resistant and should last for a full week on one battery charge. It uses Bluetooth 4.0 to communicate with your Android or iOS device, and allows you to check text messages, email, Facebook, and Twitter right on the watch itself. You can also use it to control your device's music player. It's available for $150 (£97) at GetPebble.
The £89 Sony SmartWatch launched last spring, allowing hands-free control of Android smartphones running Android OS 2.1 and above. The SmartWatch is a wearable timepiece that allows owners to read their text messages, emails, and social media updates – all from their wrist. The SmartWatch connects to Android smartphones via Bluetooth, and then sends information from the phone directly to the watch. The device comes with a black rubber strap, but fashion-conscious techies can purchase additional bands in pink, white, mint, grey, and blue. The face of the watch is actually an OLED touchscreen measuring 1.3in. To alert users to incoming calls or other events, the device vibrates and displays a notification on the screen.
Debuting in 2011, the MotoActv was one of the world's first smart watches. The MotoActv is Android-based and has a 60MHz processor, and doesn't run an official version of Android; rather, it uses the "building blocks" of Android. The watch has several main apps including a music player that downloads songs from your PC, and it wirelessly uploads your fitness data (including GPS tracking) to its website. You're supposed to listen to your music through a Bluetooth headset. It’s rather pricey, though, at $250 (£160). It should be noted that since Google bought Motorola, no one knows what the MotoActv's future is going to be.
This one isn’t out yet, but eighteen-year-old Neptune founder Simon Tian says all the right things when talking about how he will "disrupt" the smartphone market. The Neptune smartwatch will be large for a wristwatch, with a touchscreen that is 2.4in diagonally, and has a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels, QZ reports. That’s exactly the same size and resolution as the screen on older models of Blackberry smartphones with keyboards. It will cost $395 (£255) at launch and will even include a tiny 5-megapixel camera.