Pebble and the iPhone future for the iPod range

By Jonny Evans

While we wait for iPhone 5 the Kickstarter-funded Pebble smartwatch seems to combine many of the concepts I imagine Apple's [AAPL] might introduce within a future device I'm calling the 'iPhone nano'.

Pebble meets Goliath

iPhone nano speculation isn't new of course, but I like the Pebble because it hints at what one can expect from a low-cost iPhone alternative: portable, intelligent, wearable computing at an accessible price.

There's clearly demand. The $115 Pebble gathered over a million dollars in crowd-sourced funding within just six days. It isn't just a watch, it supports custom-made apps and is compatible (via Bluetooth) with the iPhone.

It's useful. It will draw GPS data from your iPhone so you can get distance and location information; it will display the first lines of important messages; supports Caller ID and its vibration alert system tells you when you receive new Tweets, Facebook messages, alarms, etc.

Pebble for iPod?

I think a device such as Pebble is an inevitable next step for the iPod nano which many users already wear as a watch. Pebble proves how versatile and useful a wristwatch device that works in conjunction with your smartphone could be. For the developers behind the project, I suspect one fear might be that Apple could take these ideas further.

I agree that the iPhone nano is one of those perennial and much-derided Apple rumors. The idea behind it is simple: a small calling device available at relatively low cost that extends Apple's mobile mission into lower end markets.

That Apple intends expanding into new markets while consolidating its hold on existing sectors is obvious to anyone with half a brain.

Apple will not sit still: whether its improving its existing product range or building business in emerging economies, it's a rubber-clad fact the company is focused on making its business grow. This means it will be constantly seeking out new opportunity while it seeks to extend the influence of its iTunes-driven ecosystem.

Informa Telecoms & Media principal analyst Malik Saadi last year told me: "I believe Apple could leverage their brand and create a new family of connected devices."

Join the dots

When it comes to an iPhone nano, the challenge for Apple is that any device introduced as an iPhone may dilute the value of its world class smartphone brand:

"Apple needs to protect the iPhone brand. I believe Apple should develop a new family of connected devices to target the mass market but I don't agree the category should belong to the iPhone brand. That's because there's a risk of low-end devices in the brand damaging the prestige of the flagship devices," says Saadi.

So the iPhone nano could be an iPod, a device which pairs with your existing iPhone, or an apps-capable iPod with calling features built-in. While such a device would cannibalize iPod touch sales, it would very likely attract new consumers into Apple's orchards.

Grinding Pebble

That's why I think it makes sense for Apple to pay attention to the Pebble project. It could even spare a few million to acquire the firm. After all, imagine if Pebble (or an Apple version of that product) offered iCloud integration and Siri support. Think about using it to make calls on its built-in SIM, and exploring apps on the color screen. (Simple apps, for more advanced apps you'd use your iPhone).

If used in conjunction with those new Apple headphone-cum-iPod shuffle product designs Apple's been working on inside its labs, the iPod range could become the best available accessory range for the iPhone.

Will Apple do this? I think it is inevitable the company will choose to reboot its mobile offering at some point.

Will Apple crush Pebble with its own similar offering? I wouldn't bet against it, but for the present, Pebble is the best expression of what an iPhone/iPod nano might eventually become. With devices like this in the frame, is it any wonder traditional feature phone manufacturers are feeling the pressure?

Catch-up with other recent iPhone coverage

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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