Apple wearables and bringing the iPod into the iOS and iCloud age

Apple wearables and bringing the iPod into the iOS and iCloud age

There's a rumor going around that the iWatch — or whatever Apple ends up calling their wearable line — will have at least one model positioned around the $400 price point. I'll just preface all this by remembering that right before the iPad launched a rumor hit that it would be positioned around the $1000 price point. It shipped starting at $500. Nothing is official until Apple says it is. With that in mind. it's interesting to look at iWatch rumors in relation to Apple's existing line of wearables — the iPod. Those venerable music and multimedia players have had several incarnations that leant themselves to everything from tie clips to wrist watches. Yet their sales have fallen in recent years and their technology is more than outdated. They're pre-post-PC devices. They are not of the iOS and iCloud age. At least not yet...

Traditional iPods — meaning all models with the exception of the iPhone-without-cellular iPod touch — still need to be tethered to iTunes. They still need to be updated, managed, and have content transferred to and from them using a wire and a computer running Mac or Windows.

They can't tie into iTunes Match or iTunes Radio — or Beats music. They can do some health and fitness logging, thanks to Nike integration, but nothing on the scale of HealthKit. They can't serve as any form of control, much like tie into HomeKit. They can't relay notifications, and they certainly won't be able to tie into any mobile payment system Apple might be planning in the future.

But what if they could? What if Apple had a range of small devices that were based on iOS instead of Pixo and that tied into iCloud instead of iTunes desktop? Whether or not Apple ultimately has a next-generation wearable without a screen, say a band or a clip, starting at $50, and one with a display starting at $150 or $200, and one with more features and better materials starting at $400, and perhaps even a high-end luxury version at $1000, it would take the essence of what made the iPod so great and bring it fully into the modern era.

With HealthKit as a spoke, with HomeKit as a spoke, with PassKit or PayKit or whatever the new mobile payments framework is called as a spoke, with Siri as a display-independant interface conduit, and with iCloud as a hub large amounts of features become decoupled from the hardware. You get as much wearable as you want or need, as much mobility or functionality as best suits you, and Apple makes sure that everything that can work just works.

Apple is really good at obsoleting their own products. The iPhone is their best iPod yet, and the iPad mini is arguably a better choice for many than the iPod touch. The iPhone 6 is supposedly going to be bigger than ever, though, and as much as that might create opportunity for bigger iPads above it, it might also reignite opportunity for smaller wearables below it.

Whether they launch as iWatches or iPods or some new name we've yet to hear even in whispers, having a new line of wearables born of the iOS and iCloud age just makes too much sense not to happen eventually. Perhaps we'll see its first signs at Apple's special event on September 9?

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Apple wearables and bringing the iPod into the iOS and iCloud age


It would be great of this $50 model could actually come with the iPhone 6. At least the most capacity 5.5 inch one. That makes since to me.

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"Coming with" isn't a great strategy. On one side it could be considered bundling and, depending on how people view the market, get Apple into some anti-trust hot water with the EU or US.

On the other, some people might have no interest in a wearable and wouldn't want to pay the extra cost for an included device.

Just like the Apple TV is sold separately, wearables will certainly be sold separately as well.

It's not gonna be a cooler, smaller iPod. I agree it has to be a fitness band w/health and workout tracking. Hopefully it will be waterproof, track sleep, pedometer, have a display for route mapping, track something else than none of them do. Heart monitor.

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On the contrary, I think this is a brilliant idea and I'm surprised no one has suggested it previously. It would make perfect sense for the new wearables to be an evolution of the aging iPod line.

The very idea of Apple introducing a new product category that was nothing but a glorified health monitoring system never made any sense to me. Way too much of a niche market, and a boring one at that. And one whose novelty would wear off just as quickly as people's dedication to fad diets.

But as a next gen iPod it's not hard to imagine how it could become an instant hit. It would be a device whose utility people already get, supercharged with iOS, biometric sensors, and wrapped in never before seen levels of must-have, jewel-like beauty. The drudgery of syncing and re-syncing your playlists with a tethered iTunes connection would be replaced by the magical auto-syncing whenever the device came within range of a wifi hotspot or the user's iPhone.

The only gap I see is headphones. Would these devices still require awkward plug-in ear pods or could Apple have something up their sleeve with a new line of bluetooth headsets?

Maybe this is all way off base, but this is the first theory I've heard about the "iWatch" that made any sense whatsoever.

Rene, it actually makes much more sense once you realize with iOS 8 comes trouble free connection between your iPad and iPhone. In other words, your iPad will automatically connects to your iPhone and internet without you have to manually connect them all the time.
The same tech could be used for a number of new wearable devices including iPods.

as soon as I saw the headline, I thought of course the iwatch could replace the iPod. But

1 to enable true icloud functionality it would need a separate sim wouldn't it? How is it gonna eg play music from iTunes in the cloud/spotify or display notifications eg emails/txt/SMS without one when it's away from the iPhone?

2 does all this added functionality give a reason for people to buy an iwatch??? I can't wait till the 9th

1) It could have wifi for limited, autonomous connectivity plus some local storage allowing you to download content for offline use. Anything requiring connectivity could also happen spontaneously whenever the device were in range of your iPhone or iPad. This device will not pretend to do everything your iPhone does.

2) If you think of it as the coolest iPod evolution ever, it's not that hard to imagine it selling like hotcakes, especially if simpler, lower end models start at $50 or $100.

I think BT LE covers that. It'll do BT + point-to-point WI-Fi.

It won't have any radios that drain batteries fast or burn holes in your wrist.

It'll connect to an iPhone or iPad for all that.

$400 would be on the high side for me and more than I think the average person would be willing to spend on a watch. $250 seems to be the more magic price point. I know Apple products command a premium price point, but $400 might be pushing it.

Ever since the beginning of the buzz around the mythic iWatch, I've thought it makes sense that it would be THE evolution of some of the already-wearable Apple products: iPods shuffle and/or nano.
What I picture: Your music (a small selection, this is, given its small size), radio, pedometer, health/fitness sensors, maybe even a payment system built-in (via NFC or Bluetooth LE), all packed in a impossibly small, sleek device to be worn as a fashion statement. This is what I imagine an iWatch to be.
No camera, no video, even no notifications on your wrist. Just an accessory for the iPhone/the Mac. But it would be interesting if it could perform some other tasks such as an Apple TV gesture-based remote, home automation control for certain devices, NFC/iBeacons enabled for easy payments.
I even think it would perfectly be a no display device, taking advantage of the iPhone screen to pull/push contents from and to the iWatch via Bluetooth or wifi, thus adding up to a long battery life between charges.
I can't wait to see what Apple will pull from the hat this fall to know for sure that iWatch unicorn is real and, specially, useful and interesting beyond a fashion accessory.