Wearable Tech World Feature Article
April 29, 2013

Did Apple Board Member Bill Campbell Hint at an Apple Smart Watch Recently?

Over the last few weeks we've been gearing up to take a dive into what Apple might deliver in the future in terms of wearable technology. Sure, the mythical iWatch may perhaps become less mythical, but our interest is in the larger theme of wearable technology -- such as the very real Google Glass, to provide a rather obscure example. We're still pondering over this issue, but while we do Bill Campbell has sneaked up on us and recently put a few thoughts out there.

Bill Campbell is a really interesting guy. Aside from being the chairman of Intuit he also happens to be a board member of Apple. And aside from being a board member of Apple he was a close friend of Steve Jobs. And aside from being a close friend of Steve Jobs he knows a thing or two about what Apple has planned for the future from a product perspective.

For some reason he recently shared some of these things with Intuit's employees, albeit in very, very broad general strokes and while disclaiming that he was not at liberty to actually provide any specific details. We don't know why he chose this venue to share insights on Apple's future products exactly, but he did. Here are the salient points that he brought up:

· Expect to see “a lot of things going on with the application of technology to really intimate things.”
· “When you start to think about glasses or watches, they become as intimate as the cell phone was.”

He also took note of Google Glass:

· Google Glass is one such intimate object. “It’s a phenomenal breakthrough,” Campbell noted.

Keep those statements in mind. Campbell then made note of Nest, a company founded by former Apple executive Tony Fadell. Nest, believe it or not, makes a thermostat -- one of those otherwise humdrum devices (Honeywell makes a great many if not most of them) that control the temperature in your home. Campbell noted the following:

· “You would think that people would yawn at something as boring as a thermostat…”

· “So, I’ve been surprised at how it has done and how it is doing. It will be the first of many products that come out of that company, which has a brilliant CEO and engineering team.”

Here's what the Nest looks like:

It doesn't quite look like any Honeywell thermostat we are familiar with. For the most part it does what other programmable thermostats do - although rather than create a set weekly schedule ahead of time, all you need do is simply turn the Nest's dial over the course of a week and it takes care of the "learning" end of things. It will also respond to a wave of the hand and bring up its menu for you to use. It is remotely controllable from an iPhone or iPad, and the mobile app will also provide all sorts of interesting usage details.

Do you really need one if your old Honeywell works? Probably not, but we might install one, which would replace at least one of our old but otherwise ultra-reliable Honeywell programmable thermostats. The only decision point is whether or not the second generation Nest is a winner or not; Amazon buyers were quite happy with the original but some have complained about the second gen version. We'll see.

OK, but the Nest Thermostat isn't a wearable device right? No, it isn't. But if it can be controlled by an iPhone or iPad it stands to reason that it can also be controlled by an iWatch. That is where it gets interesting from a wearable tech perspective. Simply to provide some sort of visual framework, here is what the Times of London posited as a possible iWatch:

It's an interesting idea, but somehow strikes us as distinctly lacking in the sort of elegance Apple would go after. The following is perhaps a more refined concept, but is still never the less rather clunky overall:

Leaving design aesthetics aside though, these certainly begin to touch on Campbell's notion - or hint - of Apple products that begin to become intimate. Campbell left "intimate" more or less open to definition - we'll think of it as meaning up close and personal. Will it become possible for the Nest to "intimately" interact with an iWatch? Will it require a Bluetooth pairing capability?

Can we create scenarios where, say, the air conditioner will kick in if I enter a room and hang out for more than a few minutes -- perhaps over-riding other settings (such as the daytime/weekday "away" setting that either turns the heat off in winter or the air conditioner off in the summer until it’s time for them to kick back in? Currently over-riding such settings requires manual intervention. Having the thermostat change its programming without the manual intervention would be quite convenient. It is notable however that while this possible exchange is handy it is also ultimately fairly trivial.

But one has to start somewhere.

It will be interesting to see where Apple might go with such a gadget -- and if the Nests of the world move to play along with it. In the meantime, in answer to the question in the headline, we're not convinced Campbell gave us nearly enough of a reason to think an iWatch is coming our way. But we can surmise he is likely to be a fan of wearable technology.

We'll leave it there, and close with this question: Is it really a "watch" if the time keeping function is ultimately the least significant thing it may have to offer to the person wearing it?

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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