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Could an Apple iWatch Be a Digital Wallet?

Could an Apple iWatch Be a Digital Wallet?
February 11, 2013 11:47AM

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Whether an Apple smart watch would be a hit depends on what it could do. Beyond telling time and sending alerts from your iPhone to your wrist, an iWatch could contain sensors that would replicate what the Nike FuelBand or Jawbone Up do. An Apple version with connectivity to other Apple devices makes sense, said analyst Avi Greengart.

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The rumors about an Apple iWatch just won't die. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both have new reports out about a Dick Tracy-like (or Inspector Gadget or James Bond, if you prefer) Apple experience on the wrist.

"The company has discussed such a device with its major manufacturing partner Hon Hai Precision Industry [Foxconn]," The Journal said. "Apple has been exploring the area for some time, according to the people briefed on the effort, and has hired employees with backgrounds in sensors and related technologies in recent years."

Although Apple declined to comment on the speculation, rumors are heating up about what an Apple iWatch would look like. So far, it's really the same story from December in which Tech163.com reported that Apple was in cahoots with Intel to build an iOS watch. The Chinese site said supply-chain resources had leaked details describing the watch as a Bluetooth-enabled device with a 1.5-inch OLED screen.

Could Apple Break Through?

Sources say Apple could roll the iWatch to the masses as early as the first half of 2013. It may be just a rumor, though. There's no indication that the late Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, opined to Walter Isaacson or anyone else about a smart watch before he died.

"Over the long term, wearable computing is inevitable for Apple; devices are diversifying and the human body is a rich canvas for the computer," said Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester analyst who specializes in wearable computing and smartphones, told The New York Times. "But I'm not sure how close we are to a new piece of Apple hardware that is worn on the body."

Of course, an Apple smart watch wouldn't be the first wearable device on the market. But Apple wasn't the first smartphone on the market either. In other words, Apple could succeed where Microsoft, Sony Ericsson and others have failed with a new rendition of wearable technology -- or just with the Apple cache.

Imaginations Run Wild

Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, told us he had no firsthand knowledge of an imminent iWatch, but the notion that Apple would create a product that would tap into its existing platforms -- iOS, iTunes and iCloud -- was at least plausible.

"If someone were to tell me Apple was working on Tastykakes, I would say that's non-plausible," Greengart said. "If they say Apple is working on a new version of their Apple TV box, I'd say I'm expecting that. The iWatch is somewhere between the two."

Whether it would be a mass hit depends, in part, over what an iWatch could do. Beyond telling time and sending alerts from your iPhone to your wrist, the product could contain sensors that would replicate what the Nike FuelBand or Jawbone Up currently do. An Apple version with native connectivity to an Apple app that runs on your iPhone or iPad might certainly make sense, Greengart said.

He also pointed to uses like authentication, storing passwords and physical access. Apple could tackle the RFID use case with an iWatch to offer a digital wallet. Indeed, there are many types of apps people probably haven't even thought of yet.

"I wouldn't presuppose you would buy or wouldn't buy the iWatch unless Apple actually comes out with the product, which is why people get all lathered up about speculating," Greengart said. "The product doesn't exist, so you can imagine it does anything."

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