I've kind of lost count now of the number of times I've heard a firm say something like this when Apple [AAPL] enters a new industry sector, so it's with mixed feelings I read Casio's boss telling us his company is "prepared" for iWatch -- as it probably means it isn't.
Speaking to The New York Times last week, Casio CEO, Kazuo Kashio said his company has been flicking its way to our wrists for some time, but this sounds a little like idle arm waving, given the company hasn't yet set the template for action in that sector. That's the thing, you see, given many years in which to innovate that appendage the company doesn't appear to have caught mass market consciousness.
"Suddenly, everyone's discovered the wrist," he said. "We've known for a long time it's prime real estate," he added, before declaring the final rites with his utterance of: "We're prepared."
The company doesn't seem to be prepared. Yes, its brand is synonymous with the notion of the digital watch (I was around in the eighties) but it has failed to establish a software platform to support its hardware supremacy.
When it comes to operating systems we talk Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry. I'm not aware of a popular Casio OS, or a wide Casio developer community.
Without that I'm sad to say Casio just isn't ready. It's not ready at all.
You see, what is wearable in the current computing paradigm is just a dumb object waiting for a little intelligence to be put inside. We're done with the beige box battles and we've moved to the digital device wars -- but that's not where this ends: iWatch, the many iWatch imitators that have been revealed since the iWatch was first speculated upon, Google Glass -- these things are just harbingers: Intelligence is headed into every device:
- Your shirt
- Your shoes
- Your utility meter
- Your car
- Your fridge
- Your garage doors
This appears to be the direction the different vested interests that constitute the leading edge of the technology industry seem to be headed, in any case. Mobile telcos, hardware manufacturers, software makers are all mumbling the M2M mantra of a fully networked technology future, and while the NSA revelations suggest this future may emerge to be unpalatably dystopian, that’s still the momentum of the motion in this particular ocean.
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What are the options?
Certainly, Casio has flirted with Windows-equipped mobile devices, but hasn't prepared fully for this new age. This leaves it only a couple of options from which to develop its own range of intelligent devices:
- Use someone else's software (Windows, Android)
- Take innovation a step further and create a fabulous device that takes M2M into a whole new mass market sector
- Sell its patents
- Sell its company.
I'm sure there will be those who think I'm being harsh when I make these claims, but I'll repeat myself: I have heard Flip say it, I heard BlackBerry say it, I heard Nokia say it; I've heard Microsoft say it: whenever Apple enters a new sector existing incumbents talk the talk and then fail in the walk.
This may be the situation historically, but with Google, Motorola, Samsung, Microsoft and others also all about to battle for a slice of the action on your wrist, existing incumbents need to be absolutely certain they have something strong to offer, as the competition won't just emerge from Apple, but from everywhere else.
This is what BlackBerry says now after a similar struggle:
"I think BlackBerry is able to survive as a niche company. But being a niche company means deciding to be a niche company. Historically, BlackBerry has had larger ambitions. But battling giants like Apple, Google and Samsung is tough," said BlackBerry board member, Bert Nordberg.
Where I sit right now I believe that without access to some unknown secret weapon, Casio can't tell what time it is. And telling the time correctly seems to me to be a rather important requirement for a company that wants to wrap itself round your wrist.
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