Can a 'nifty' iWatch from Apple catch on?

As a phone, maybe not; but as a health monitor, maybe

A watch that doubles as a computer and two-way radio has been a technology vision since at least the 1950s.

Recently, reports that Apple is building an iWatch have lit a fire under the smart watch concept, at least in part because of Apple's past success with introducing new technologies. That, combined with the arrival of bendable glass -- it's called Willow Glass -- from Corning Glass and recent talk by Google of wearable computers and you've got all you need to feed the rumor mill.

According to the New York Times, Apple is experimenting with wristwatch-like computing devices made of curve glass. Bloomberg reported Apple has a team of 100 product designers working on such a device that might offer some of the functions of the iPhone and iPad. And the Wall Street Journal said Apple has discussed the iWatch concept with its manufacturing partner, Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.

"I think an iWatch is a pretty nifty idea," IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said in an interview today. "The way I look at it is that we're moving into an era of wearable computers and a watch makes sense from a portability and practicality standpoint. You don't even have to know it's there on your wrist. A watch makes sense."

Just how the device would function seems to be the biggest unknown, since it isn't clear whether Apple would pair the watch with the iPhone through Bluetooth or some other means.

To Llamas, it wouldn't make sense for the iWatch to be a phone on its own, or even a phone somehow paired with another cell phone. "That's silly," Llamas said. "If I get a call, I want to pick up my phone. How am I going to hear a call on my watch?"

The same could be said for video chats, Llamas said. "I can already do video chat on my iPhone and it has a bigger screen."

Llamas believes that the Dick Tracy two-way wristwatch radio and video call device "was a great idea for the '50s and '60s, a novelty, but here in the 21st century, having a video or phone watch, well, you'd have a hard time to make that happen."

The iWatch would have to be something people use differently, not simply a replacement for a cell phone, Llamas said. "An iWatch would be a terrific complement to other devices," he said.

Still, Llamas and other analysts believe there could be many valuable functions for computing on a wristwatch. "Think of the health implications of an iWatch, for taking your pulse and connecting to a set of health-related applications," Llamas said.

An iWatch could be a great mobile payment vehicle, especially if Apple built in an NFC chip. "You could transmit information for payments just by touching the watch to a reader," Llamas said.

An iWatch would also be great for receiving notifications of upcoming meetings or for alerts on good fares for airline travel. With Siri voice assistant capability, it would be relatively easy to transmit a text message or email quickly, analysts said.

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