A Reuters report today says Taiwan’s Quanta is set to begin production of Apple’s unannounced, but widely rumored smartwatch next month, with a release date set for October. None of that is especially new information, but buried inside the dispatch, Reuters cites a source that claims the iWatch will use a 2.5-inch display, far larger than the 1.3-to-1.5-inch figures that have been making the rounds. If that’s the case, it might be more accurate to call the product the “iCuff” or “iBracelet” rather than the iWatch because it will scarcely resemble anything currently out there. And it seems far too large to be popular with many people, at least initially.
To get a sense of how large a 2.5-inch diagonal is, consider that the leading wrist-based wearable (before its recall) was the Fitbit Force. The active area, that is the part that contains electronics and sits on top of your wrist, is about 1.75 inches long and .75 inches wide. To hold a screen of the size Reuters mentions, you’d need to nearly triple the width of the band to greater than 2 inches. That’s assuming the screen actually runs with the longer dimension up your forearm. Such an orientation would be needed because a band similar to the Fitbit couldn’t manage the screen “vertically” and based on my somewhat average-sized wrist, I’m not clear there’s much room to go bigger.
Over at MacRumors, there’s a mockup which shows the screen oriented the opposite way, though, with the longer edge running perpendicular to the arm. It was put together by a fellow named Lewis Dorigo and depicts the display wrapping around his wrist. What it doesn’t have is a band of any kind so it actually understates just how big such a device would be. Reuters says “the watch face will protrude slightly from the band, creating an arched shape.” The curve allows for a bit larger dimensions on a slightly smaller wrist but not terribly more.
If this much-larger-than-expected size does come to pass, it brings with it some good things. It’s easier to accommodate more battery in a bigger device. It’s also easier to have more sensors, like a pulse tracker, with more space. The Taiwan reports say the iWatch will offer wireless charging, which might be especially popular on a device like that though implementations to date have not been entirely successful.
But such a big device would seem to shrink the market more than any increase in capability would enlarge it. An iWatch that big would be very difficult to integrate with any sort of fashionable look on the same hand, for example. While that problem perhaps mostly affects women, it’s not unreasonable to ask if men would be interested in wearing what amounts to a significant cuff-like bracelet just to have Apple’s latest gadget. (Let’s not even get started on the tan lines!)
Then there is the question of functionality. It is widely believed that Apple’s decision to offer interactive notifications in iOS 8 was a prelude to allowing similar “widgets” to run on the iWatch. Dorigo’s mockups (which, in fairness, he described as “probably wrong”), assume the iWatch is used like a tiny iPhone, with similar icons and actions. If, instead, it’s mostly a place where you are shown notifications that you can quickly manipulate with a single gesture, then the additional screen real estate doesn’t actually buy much. But it will cost much in terms of initial acceptance.
Early wearables have been fitness-centric devices that try to blend in from a fashion perspective — or at least not stand out much. The smartwatches from Pebble, Sony, and Samsung have made some efforts to go down a similar path with mixed success both in terms of features and market acceptance. It seems certain Apple’s design prowess will lead it down a path that the iWatch will have its own elegance without making the noise of, say, Google Glass.
Maybe Reuters source is right, the iWatch will be huge and it will find great success anyway. It seems more likely something got lost in translation, as it often does in these matters.