Apple didn’t announce an iWatch at its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, nor was it expected to.
But what happened instead was just as intriguing: With iOS 8, Apple quietly laid the groundwork for what could be a great wearable platform, adding the raw ingredients to compete with Google, Samsung and others.
One of the big new features in iOS 8 is interactive notifications, which allow users to directly respond to e-mails, calendar appointments and social media posts without going into the app itself.
Yes, it’s one of several features that Apple “borrowed” from Android, and this may not be a coincidence given that actionable notifications are the centerpiece of Google’s own wearable platform, Android Wear. Instead of just seeing static notifications on your wrist, Android Wear will let you respond to them while leaving your phone in your pocket. Without a similar system in iOS, Apple would have been at a big disadvantage.
Interactive notifications aren’t the only smartwatch-friendly feature in iOS 8. Apple is beefing up Siri with streaming voice (so you can confirm what you’re saying as you talk), support for more languages and the ability to activate voice commands by saying “Hey, Siri.”
Siri will also be able to control home automation setups through HomeKit, which makes a lot of sense for a wearable device. You don’t want to have to dig out your phone or tablet just to tweak the thermostat or turn down the lights.
And of course, there’s Health and HealthKit, which will allow users to keep track of all their fitness tracking applications. Wouldn’t it make sense to keep an eye on these stats while exercising, without having to strap an iPhone onto your shoulder?
I’ll cheerfully admit that the case for an iWatch isn’t airtight. There are still tough hardware problems to solve, including battery efficiency, fashionability (for both men and women) and pricing, and I can still pick out some things I’d like to see on the software side (such as third-party app support in Siri).
But Apple’s never been known to tick every feature box at once. Instead, the company tends to take its time building up from a foundation. In hindsight, that’s exactly what Apple did as it built up iOS on the iPhone, before launching the iPad a few years later. With iOS 8, it’s a lot easier to believe that an iWatch is coming next.