I submit that Apple is the largest wearable computing device maker in the world.
You have been taught that wearable computing are watches and glasses. That is because technology writers don’t think about things in terms of how products are used. They come from a builder’s perspective (or more likely what they imagine a builder’s perspective to be). That means unless a new product seems like it should have been technologically challenging to develop, they won’t bother considering it a new product.
That’s why when the iPad came out it was derided as an incremental innovation: “an iPod touch with a bigger screen”. Not that that was incorrect. “An iPod touch with a bigger screen and optional 3G” was actually a good technical description of the original an iPad. It’s only retrospectively that the iPad was redefined by the press as having introducing a new category of products. It turned out, screen size matters a great deal to how a person interacts with a product. A pitchfork is just a big fork, but they are distinct inventions since they have distinct purposes. The technical similarities are irrelevant.
Keep that in mind when I argue that this is the best-selling wearable computing device in the world:
It didn’t get much attention at the time, but at some point Apple redesigned its crappy, uncomfortable, circular earbuds to create these ergonomic gems. They retail for $29. They have three buttons. Two control volume. The third is used to pause and play music and answer calls. Holding it down summons Siri to send texts; create notes, reminders, and appointments; or check the weather. I fiddle with it at least a few times per day when out with the blog dog.
I posit that the reason no one other than myself think of it as a wearable computing product is that it seems from the outside to be stupidly simple technically. It comes free with any iPhone or iPod. It has no batteries and probably does no processing internally. Still, I find it incredibly useful when walking or running. It covers most of the more appealing (and less dorktastic) use cases used to advertise the Galaxy Gear, with the notable exception of taking snapshots.
The reason I bring up this hyper-inclusive framing of what constitutes a wearable computing device is a way to make sense of this:
Not to malign members of my own demographic, but it seems a lot of 40-something white guys are simply incapable of fathoming why Apple might want to pay $3.2 billion for Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s Beats business.
I think there is a reasonable possibility that the whole thing is a hoax or will fall through. (Sorry, Financial Times; I’ll believe it when Apple issues a press release about it.)
Beats is a brand. Their primary business is selling headphones. Non-magical headphones. They have market share and name recognition. Audiophiles argue they aren’t better dollar for dollar than other mass market headphones, but I would argue they may be more comfortable and have better sound isolation. Unlike every other headphone maker, their brand has meaning beyond “we make electronics at a variety of different price points.”
Apple might be able to use Beats brand as a platform for experimentation with accessories. Apple’s current lineup of accessories are all singular versions of highly refined designs of certain products. Apple sells one kind of mouse, one kind of trackpad, two kinds of iPhone 5S cases, etc. With Beats as an independently run brand, they could introduce more accessories at more price points without the expectation that each model be special. Apple to my knowledge has never sought to do this before and I question the wisdom of changing now, but it’s potentially a reason.
If you think of headphones as wearable computing accessories that form an important touchpoint for customers within the Apple ecosystem, the move would be arguably in character for Apple even though its never owned a sub-brand before. It would be in keeping with its established strategy for Apple to move into areas that are important to the experience of its products.
Not that I entirely believe the transaction will actually happen…