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Apple's Newest Device: Something Out of 'Dick Tracy'? NY Times

The Next Big Thing from Apple could be a real-life version of a gadget that has been a part of pop culture for decades -- seen in “Dick Tracy,” James Bond movies ... and “Inspector Gadget.”

Spy movies and science-fiction comic books have been big proponents of variations on the two-way wrist radio -- a watch that doubles as a communication device, computer or TV set. Now The New York Times reports that Apple is getting in on the act.

“In its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Apple is experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass, according to people familiar with the company’s explorations, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because they are not allowed to publicly discuss unreleased products,” the story reports. “Such a watch would operate on Apple’s iOS platform, two people said, and stand apart from competitors based on the company’s understanding of how such glass can curve around the human body.”

Apple would not comment on the report, the story notes. “But the exploration of such a watch leaves open lots of exciting questions: If the company does release such a product, what would it look like? Would it include Siri, the voice assistant? Would it have a version of Apple’s map software, offering real-time directions to people walking down the street? Could it receive text messages? Could it monitor a user’s health or daily activity? How much will it cost? Could Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, be wearing one right now, whispering sweet nothings to his wrist?”

In most cases the answers to the questions are not known. However, the report says Apple does have the technology.

“Last year, Corning, the maker of the ultra-tough Gorilla Glass that is used in the iPhone, announced that it had solved the difficult engineering challenge of creating bendable glass, called Willow Glass, that can flop as easily as a piece of paper in the wind without breaking,” the story reports. “Pete Bocko, the chief technology officer for Corning Glass Technologies, who worked on Willow Glass, said via telephone that the company had been developing the thin, flexible glass for more than a decade, and that the technology had finally arrived.”

Said Bocko: “You can certainly make it wrap around a cylindrical object and that could be someone’s wrist. Right now, if I tried to make something that looked like a watch, that could be done using this flexible glass.”

But he warned: “The human body moves in unpredictable ways. It’s one of the toughest mechanical challenges.”

Tech.163, a Chinese gadget site, reported late in 2012 that Apple was working on a watch with Bluetooth and a 1.5-inch display.

Said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester specializing in mobile devices and wearable computing: “Apple’s certainly made a lot of hiring in that area. Apple is already in the wearable space through its ecosystem partners that make accessories that connect to the iPhone. ... This makes Apple potentially the biggest player of the wearables market in a sort of invisible way.”

She added: “Over the long term wearable computing is inevitable for Apple; devices are diversifying and the human body is a rich canvas for the computer. But I’m not sure how close we are to a new piece of Apple hardware that is worn on the body.”