Apple should kill iPod, create iPod Tricorder and own wearable computing

How much weight have you lost so far this year? It’s been a week – have you gone for a run everyday, as you promised with your new year’s resolutions? Fitness, good health, good habits, these are all part of the annual promises we make. Quit smoking, always take the stairs, watch what we eat. In fact, devices, services, websites and apps that help us in our personal goals are a big business. One that’s certain to get bigger. I think Apple should leap into this industry – and own it.

With the iPod.

Only, not with the iPod Touch or iPod Shuffle, for example. I think Apple should abandon the traditional iPod line and re-fashion it as a line of personal, wearable devices that promote fitness, good habits, safety and lifelogging.

iPod Means Little Today

The iPod may have saved Apple. Ten years later, however, the product is of little consequence. The entire iPod line is worth less than 1% of Apple’s value, per industry figures. At Apple’s present market cap of $500 billion, that makes all things iPod worth less than $5 billion. True, that’s a phenomenal valuation for a start-up or small business, but barely a rounding error for the world’s largest tech company. Possibly more importantly, the iPod is rapidly losing its relevance. With so many now owning smartphones, there is very little reason to ever purchase an iPod. Plus, as more people embrace streaming music, a collection of songs on a MP3 player is of little value to users.

We are on the cusp of a wearable computer revolution, I believe, and Apple can dominate this budding industry just as it does smartphones and tablets. Who better to design beautiful, affordable, highly functional wearable devices? Who better to design such devices and integrate them with a robust ecosystem of developers, apps and payments? Apple’s “iPod line” of wearable devices can enable users from children to seniors to link important personal and health data to their smartphone, monitor their progress on their iPad, download and analyze their numbers on their Mac. This could be huge for Apple and for users and a renaissance for iPod.

Revising the iPod brand

There are already numerous apps and devices used to promote good health, fitness, to monitor our heart rate, help us stop smoking, analyze our water. The popular Fitbit bracelet or Jawbone UP, for example, helps users keep track of how much they walked, how well they slept. That information can then be downloaded to their smartphone for analysis and archiving. I think with its design skills, manufacturing prowess, global retail footprint, world-beating interface capabilities – including voice, touch and type – Apple  can offer better devices than any that now exist.

The iPod brand name can become meaningful and valuable again: the ‘i’ for individual, of course, and Internet – and integrated with iOS and iPhone and iPad. The “Pod” already suggests a unique, standalone device. Imagine devices that we keep on our wrists that measure blood pressure, sleep cycles and exercise activities, for example. Or a device that anyone can use that straps onto their chest and determines not just heart rate but heart patterns – like an at-home ECG. And it’s all instantly downloadable to our iPhone. These are not simply fitness tools, these are medical devices. The market for these is well into the billions. Apple already wants to put an iPad Mini in every doctor’s lab coat. Imagine the smartphones, computers and tablets they sell if medical staff – and patients – had Apple healthcare apps and gadgets. Make iPod stand for healthcare. There may be no larger industry in the world.

The iPod Tricorder

I suspect few of us care anymore about an “iPod” that holds our music. I believe tens of millions, however, would crave an “iPod” watch. One that tracked our heart, blood pressure, number of steps walked, how fast we ran, how many calories we consumed – and all this information available with a swipe or a Siri query. Only the geekiest of geeks will ever wear Google Glasses. Not so a sleek “iPod watch”.

With this new iPod, we simply go to the iPod App Store and download an app to analyze our food choices, for example, or share our successes with a social group, all through the iPod itself.  Only Apple has all the pieces to make the product and the services that can help us improve our lives, monitor what we do, and share that with others, so beautifully, affordably and accessibly.

The market is ready. Last year, Memoto, a small wearable camera that promised to constantly take a picture of the user’s surroundings, stamp each pic with data and time, went on Kickstarter to raise $50,000.They quickly raised over half a million.

Understand, however, that the “iPod” need not be only for personal resolutions or “lifelogging”. The smartphone, led by the iPhone, has begat a revolution in personal mobile computing. We are always connected, everywhere. The next step is connecting our personal data, and our surroundings, then integrating that with our existing tools and services. The new iPod line of wearable computing devices could jumpstart this second revolution just as the iPhone did with the smartphone. The new iPod could be a line of products that empower individuals, healthcare providers, moms and dads, unlike anything before. Track your aging parents. Monitor your blood sugar levels. Check your child’s food choices with the iPod on your wrist.

Apple – get to this! We want our tricorder!

 

Author: Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology, immortality and food for ReadWrite, Techpinions, Unwired View and other publications. His thoughts on the 'smartphone wars' and how these are rapidly de-constructing markets, industries, business models and relationships around the world can be found on his personal site at www.brianshall.com.

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