Rumour has it that Apple (opens in new tab) is about to revolutionise the watch market with an iWatch, just as it redefined the MP3 player and cell phone markets with iPods and iPhones respectively.
The wristwatch usurped the once ubiquitous pocket watch, which began to fade after World War I as smaller mechanisms could be profitably manufactured. The wristwatch eventually evolved into adornment and universality as the quartz mechanism took over.
The pendulum swung in the opposite direction with the emergence of the mobile phone, which became the new go-to device for telling the time. Given that the mobile phone also automatically adjusts as you traverse time zones and serves as a telephone and portable computer, who needs a watch anymore?
As the wristwatch drifted into irrelevance, all sorts of computerised wristwatches came and went from Timex, Microsoft, Fossil, and other experimental watch companies that essentially put Palm Pilots on your wrist. None of these were much more than gimmicks.
There is now the idea that a Dick Tracy mobile phone watch will catch on. In fact, this sort of phone has been made in China for years and is ready to take the world by storm, but nobody is interested. There are also watches that monitor your blood pressure but again, very few people actually want these.
So now rumours abound about an Apple iWatch that may or may not be an iPhone (opens in new tab) too. The closest Apple has come to this market is the iPod nano (opens in new tab), which can be put into a wrist band and display a watch face.
I got myself into trouble for condemning the iPhone (opens in new tab) before actually seeing one and so I'm reluctant to do the same thing with the iWatch. But can Apple really reimagine a watch so radically that when I see it I'll say, "Wow! I want one of those!"
Rumours suggest Apple is having trouble designing this watch and four possible scenarios now exist:
1. Apple will get an astonishing team together and bring out a breakthrough product that will set the world on fire, much like the iPod and iPhone did. Everyone will want one because this fascinating new concept will change the way we use the wristwatch.
2. Apple will bring out some lame watch that may or may not be faddish, but people will stick with their pocket watches (a.k.a. their iPhones) in the long run.
3. Apple will abandon the watch idea altogether.
4. Apple never had any watch plans. The whole thing was an elaborate ruse to trick Microsoft and perhaps Google into developing competitive smart watches that cost both companies time and money.
This last possibility is not so wild. Ford did it some years ago over in the States when it announced it was going to make a six-door SUV, which I've always been convinced was designed to worry General Motors.
This watch phenomenon is all part of the wearable computer trend that has resulted in the silly Google Glass (opens in new tab) and little else. I have yet to see any wearable device that is exciting or practical.
Personally, I'm not expecting anything special from Apple, Microsoft, or anyone else for that matter. But I hope for the best.