Beyond the razzle-dazzle keynotes, it’s rare that we get a peek inside the mind of Apple. But at the All Things D conference–a tech conference helmed by the Wall Street Journal‘s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, famous for stunts like getting Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to share an interview–Tim Cook spent the better part of an hour talking about the company, its decisions, and its direction.
A topic of particular noteworthiness was the biggest looming disruption in technology: wearables. Cook talked about why the Nike+ FuelBand works and Google Glass doesn’t, and discussed a bit on why wearables are such a complicated space for the tech industry to enter.
Mossberg/Swisher: Is the future wearables?
Cook: I think so. I wear this. It’s a FuelBand. I think Nike did a great job with this. It’s for a specific area. It’s integrated well with iOS. There are lots of gadgets in this space now…[As for] the ones that are doing more than one thing…there’s nothing great out there that I’ve seen. There’s nothing that’s going to convince a kid that’s never worn glasses or a band to wear one. So I think there’s lot of things to solve in this space, but it’s an area where it’s ripe for exploration. It’s ripe for us all getting excited about. I think there will be tons of companies playing in this.
I see it as something, as another very key branch of the tree. You think about the post PC era, and we really started talking about this several years ago. I think the iPhone pushed us toward that fast and the tablet accelerated it. I think wearables could be another branch on this.
Mossberg/Swisher: Where will these wearables be worn on the body? Glasses? For health?
Cook: I’m interested in a great product. And I think in terms of glasses, I wear glasses because I have to. I can’t see without them. So I kind of have that problem. I don’t know a lot of people who wear them who don’t have to. People who do wear them generally want them to be light, to be unobtrusive. They probably want them to reflect their fashion, their style and so forth. And so I think from a mainstream point of view, this is difficult, this is difficult to see.
I think the wrist is interesting. I’m wearing this [FuelBand] on my wrist. It’s somewhat natural. But as I said before, I think for something to work here [gestures to wrist], you first have to convince people it’s so incredible that they want to wear it.
Because you two guys are wearing watches. If we had a room full of 10-20 year olds, and we said ‘everyone stand up who has a watch on,’ I’m not sure anyone would stand up. I don’t see it. Their watch is this [pulls out an iPhone]. I don’t think it has to be just that. I think there are other wearable ideas that could be interesting. The whole sensor field is going to explode. It’s already exploding. It’s a little all over the place right now, but with the arc of time, it will become clearer I think.
His half-tacit point, as to why the Nike+ FuelBand works and Google Glass doesn’t, seems to revolve around the idea that people will wear a watch who don’t technically need it, but they won’t as readily wear glasses for reasons beyond necessity (like fashion, for instance).
Of course, while many of us agree with Cook about Glass’s fashion faux pas, I’d bet all of us have a friend who, during the chunky hipster glasses era, has donned a pair of frames with clear (or no) lenses. And don’t even get me started on the necessity/style ration of sunglasses. Quite simply, people wear glasses for utility and fashion at a varying ratio.
But whether or not you agree with Cook’s entire argument, his conclusion seems sound: that to create a successful wearable, you must pack in a compelling argument for the consumer to display this on their body. I just hope that Apple, of all tech companies working in this space, realizes that this compelling argument may actually be MORE about fashion than utility. It’s a big reason that my Nike+ FuelBand has grown dusty on my desk. It works, and I like how it looks. But fashion is fickle. And even if I like how an iWatch looks on day 1, I may tire of it on my wrist by day 90.
[Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design]