Many vendors at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, including Intel, showed wireless charging products. Meanwhile, it is expected that Samsung will release the Galaxy Gear 2 smartwatch along with the Galaxy S5 smartphone in April. And, this week, Pebble announced pre-orders of its first smartwatch with a metal casing, the Pebble Steel, in an effort to claim the high-end of this fledgling market.
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The cross-reference of these data points is the much-expected Apple iWatch, which rumors suggest may launch in October of 2014 along with the next iPhone (iPhone 6 and/or Air.) Whether or not it is made out of curved Gorilla Glass or not, I think the real must-have feature for the iWatch is wireless charging.
There are a number of factors that lead me to this conclusion. First, Apple’s whole design advantage in recent years has been thinness and lightness. Walk into Best Buy and look at all of the tablets and Apple’s new iPads stand out for their svelte lack of clunk. The size of the battery will be a key determinant of how light and thin an iWatch can be.
Second, the Pebble watch, which I have been (fairly) happily wearing for the past six months or so, has a battery life of 5-7 days with its 3.7 volt and 130 mAh battery. My biggest problem with it is the fact that that battery often dies at inopportune times. I depend on its alarm function, so I need to check my Pebble for the low battery indicator hours before bed to make sure I don’t have to charge it or set a backup alarm clock.
As it is, I followed Pebble from the beginning of its Kickstarter campaign. Although I was not a supporter, I did invest my attention in the product, so I suspect that I may be more forgiving of the product’s limitations than I would be if it were a brand new product from Apple. “It’s cool, but…” has never been an acceptable statement for Apple products (internally or externally), and I think this battery issue could be a real buzz-kill for the iWatch.
A report last week in Jessica Lessin’s The Information (behind paywall though well-described in Digital Trends) pointed to “bumps in the road for Apple’s iWatch,” and one of the key bumps was the battery. The form factor of the watch will be strongly determined by the battery and a large enough battery to drive a bright, full-color retina screen (as we would expect) for a week or so would make for something clunky, like the Samsung Gear (and very un-Apple-like!)
The only answer, I think, is to have a resonant wireless charger (the outlines of the technology for which was shown at CES) that could sit on your nightstand and charge your watch while you sleep, or that could connect to your laptop and keep you charging during the day. Otherwise, I fear the iWatch will not “just work” for users. We expect to charge our phones, tablets and laptops every day or so, but our watches maybe once a year. That’s a big habit to overcome and one that will keep consumers from mass adoption.
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