Never mind the Apple Watch: Where's Apple Glass?

Wearables. We hear a lot about wearables, and Apple's staged to make a big entrance in 2015 with the release of the Apple Watch. In the interim, other companies are making plays in another segment of the wearables market: glasses. Google may have gone to ground for a bit to rework its Glass product, but Microsoft is charging full speed ahead with HoloLens and Facebook last year acquired Oculus VR, makers of the Rift headset. Where's Apple in all this?

As Rene and I have both pointed out in the past, chances are if something consumer electronics-related can be prototyped, Apple has done it. I have no doubt that somewhere in a well-secured office in Cupertino rests Apple's answer to Google Glass and the rest. Whether it'll ever see the light of day is a different question.

Away from the bleeding edge

What I do know is this: Apple is rarely, if ever, the first to market with a new product. They tend to take a more conservative approach, preferring for other companies to try (and fail) before jumping in themselves with a product.

The iPod wasn't the first digital music player to market, for example. MP3 players were already a burgeoning business by the time Apple got into it in 2001, and when it was first introduced, many industry pundits didn't think too much of it: It was limited to compatibility with the Mac, which was then even more of a niche product than it is today; and it had a (comparatively) limited 5 GB of storage capacity.

But Apple's ability to connect the iPod with an audience of customers succeeded — succeeded, in fact, beyond most people's wildest expectations. Apple grew the iPod business in leaps and bounds, expanding compatibility to include Windows, and producing an impressive e-commerce infrastructure in the iTunes Store that continues to this day.

The iPhone certainly wasn't the first smartphone; it wasn't the first touch-based phone device, either. But Apple's ability to innovate and connect with customers made the iPhone a raging success and a truly disruptive force in the cell phone market.

The iPad was the same way. The iPad was, actually, the progenitor of the iPhone, but Apple thought the iPhone would be more viable. Tablets themselves were around for quite a while before the iPad made it to market — I remember playing with a Windows-based tablet at an IT job I had in the late '90s — but the iPad was the device that had a profoundly transformative effect on the industry.

Apple doesn't have a lock on innovation, by any stretch. Google's improved Android in leaps and bounds, and despite flagging profits, Samsung's proven that they can build high-quality handsets to rival Apple and to capture the interest of the buying public.

Playing to Apple's strengths

One of Apple's core strengths is in the development of products that connect with consumers in unique ways. Another core Apple strength is the soup-to-nuts user experience: Designing the operating system and the hardware, and providing a framework for all of it to work together and to work with third-party products.

Those are among the many reasons why a lot of people assume Apple will succeed with the Apple Watch where other companies have either had tepid response so far or have failed outright.

If not now, then when?

Assuming Facebook, Google and Microsoft are right, and there's a market for glasses wearables, it's natural to wonder when Apple will think the market is ripe for disruption.

This is very much a nascent industry: Oculus Rift has only ever been released as a development kit; it's not available as a retail product. Neither is Google Glass. And Microsoft's HoloLens was just demonstrated, and won't be out for a while.

Apple's wearables focus for 2015 will be on the Apple Watch. It's a new product for Apple, and indeed a new market opportunity for them. I don't see room right now for any other wearable product from Apple in that respect, at least not now.

So my expectation is that it'll be a good long time before we see Apple enter that market. Let other companies try and fail, then let's see what Apple can do.