For a trend often cited as the cutting edge of technology, wearables already feel a little dated. After years of speculation and “big talk, no¬†walk”¬†product launches (ever seen anyone sporting Galaxy Gear? Thought not.), a widely desired piece of wearable technology still seems a distant promise.

Tomorrow Apple could be set to change all that. After many false dawns, the real one may be about to shine a light on wearable technology for the mainstream.

 

Wearables and the iWatch Myth

Apple wrist tattoo

WIll we all soon be able to wear Apple on our wrist? | Image credit: Terry Johnston

Although there are several reasons to pay attention to Apple’s latest event on Tuesday, from the launch of iPhone 6 to the rubbernecking interest prompted by last week’s nude celebrity photo hack, for many it’s the potential to finally see the so-called iWatch that trumps everything else.

As with wearables in general, speculation surrounding the iWatch reached fever pitch some time ago. Every major event that Apple holds makes mention of the possibility that this might be the one where Apple makes it way into wearable tech, only to have their hopes dashed. The result is a product that is part hype, part myth, with some of its allure perhaps being undermined by underwhelming products that have attempted to take early-mover advantage in a market that could be worth more than $8 billion in the next five years.

But this time feels different. This is, in part, because Apple is overdue a game-changing product reveal. Since the iPad was launched to global acclaim in 2010, the Cupertino company is largely seen as treading water. Losing Steve Jobs was a significant blow, and many have questioned whether his successor Tim Cook can drive Apple to the new innovative highs that have become its signature. Fan loyalty remains unwavering, but there’s little doubt that the company needs another burst of momentum to stem the flow of mainstream users slowly shifting from its brand, be it Android in the mobile market, or any number of competing devices in the personal computing space.

Wearables hold the potential for Apple to once again take the driver’s seat in a nascent product sector, and steer itself back to top spot as the world’s most valuable brand.

 

More Than Hype?

What Apple must deliver tomorrow, if it is indeed set to spark the wearables war, is much more than a slick version of the wrist devices that have come before.

Firstly, those products have rarely raised much more than a sniff of interest outside of the tech media, who are duty-bound to report almost every launch in the wearable category. Galaxy Gear sales started anemic and got no better, interest in Pebble seemed to peak around the runaway success of its Kickstarter project, rather than the product itself, and new devices from Motorola are only just beginning to attract attention. Apple undoubtedly has the advance interest in its first wearable product, but it must also overcome the frankly limited nature of these earlier devices.

The second and more intangible challenge is to find a way to convince less tech-obsessed consumers that they should accessorize their outfit choice with adornments that double as devices. To achieve the sales that a new product category requires, Apple must marry fashion and function into a product that looks good and performs in a way that our existing devices do not. The desire to avoid reaching into the pocket every time a text comes in is evident, but isn’t enough in itself to justify adding another piece of equipment to our array of smartphones, laptops, desktops and tablets. To get everyone on board, Tim Cook and crew will need to reveal something far more compelling than the latest in geek chic.

Apple is a company with a proven track record in moving entire technology sectors forward, but its challenge with wearables is an intriguing mixture. Whatever it reveals tomorrow at the auditorium in which Steve Jobs launched the original Macintosh, Apple will require all the unique allure that the brand evokes to find that elusive sweet spot between fashion and functionality.

Stay tuned to the live feed tomorrow to find out if Apple exceeds expectations or simply further fuels the hype.