Even for Apple, smart wristwatch could be a tough sell

The latest Apple rumor says the company is building a smart wristwatch with a flexible display

Apple's next big innovation may be found on its customers' wrists.

The New York Times reports that Apple is pursuing the development of a smart watch device that incorporates curved glass for its display. The report, in the style of most Apple rumors, cites anonymous sources with the company who claim the device will feature the iOS mobile operating system. However, details on which iOS features the device would utilize -- such as Siri or Passbook -- were not available.

The development of curved glass could be the key to a functional smart watch, and, as the Times pointed out, is entirely possible. Display manufacturer Corning Glass Technologies, which makes the Gorilla glass for the iPhone display, showcased its flexible display technology last year. Pete Bocko, Corning's CTO, told the Times that the technology could be adapted to fit around a user's wrist.

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REPORTS: Apple exploring watch-like devices ]

Peter Burns watch

Credit: Peter Burns

One past concept design for an iWatch, by Peter Burns

"Right now, if I tried to make something that looked like a watch, that could be done using this flexible glass," Bocko told the Times.

In addition to Corning, experts from other companies told the Times that Apple's hiring and development trends indicate that there may be some truth to this rumor.

In a way, the device would not necessarily be Apple's first smart wristwatch device. The sixth-generation iPod Nano was roughly the size of the face of a wristwatch, and Apple treated it as such, selling watch bands for the device online. That version of the Nano even had the option to default to an analog clock face when the user wasn't using it.

However, Apple has since abandoned that approach in favor of a larger, 2.5-inch display on its new iPod Nano. Wrist-bands for the sixth-gen Nano are still available on Apple's site, but no such band was developed for its latest version.

Even before that, designer Peter Burns released his concept design for the iWatch, which implemented one of the earliest iPod home-screens on a single piece of hardware that could be worn on the wrist.

Recognizing the convenience that the form factor would provide, many other manufacturers have attempted to develop wrist-worn smart devices. But the failures of companies like HP, Samsung and Sony show just how difficult this task will be, if Apple intends to pursue it.

Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter @ntwrkwrldneagle and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is cneagle@nww.com.

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