iWatch: Apple’s first true foray into wearable tech

You have to say the odds are stacked against them though.

Reports from Silicon Valley suggest Apple is currently recruiting heavily in its iWatch wrist computer division, in the hope of ironing out design problems the team is currently grappling with. Insiders at its Cupertino headquarters suggest the hiring spree has been sparked amid concerns the new tech will not be ready until the end of 2014. Apple’s first true foray into wearable technology, chief executive Tim Cook said in June that this market segment was "ripe for exploration" and "incredibly interesting".

Although not yet officially announced, industry insiders agree a new smartwatch is the most likely piece of kit under development; with Apple has already making several applications to trademark "iWatch". Mr Cook hinted at its existence in April, saying: "Our teams are hard at work on some amazing new hardware, software and services that we can't wait to introduce this fall and throughout 2014."

With Apple clearly investing heavily in the iWatch, you have to wonder whether the company is backing the wrong horse. Industry analysts have long been predicting the explosion of wearable tech, but its growth has so far been meagre at best. Critical consensus hasn’t yet been reached either, with Google Glass generating a lot of column inches but also polarising opinion. Reviews have praised its inituitive hands-free interface in the same breath as pouring scorn on the potential privacy problems associated with the glasses-mounted camera, which makes it difficult for others to tell if you are recording them or not.

It remains to be seen if the iWatch will encounter such a reception upon its release, but at this stage at least, you have to say the odds are stacked against Apple. One of the biggest advantages of Google Glass is that it frees up your hands to do other things, while still allowing you to make use of the technology’s features, as Google has made very clear in its promotional material. I doubt many people will rush out to buy the glasses because they allow you to record your skydive hands-free, but Google is clearly showing us what the future possibilities of the wearable tech market are. In the case of the iWatch, it is hard to see how this could be made to be hands-free, so this advantage is immediately wiped out, meaning its other features will have to be especially enticing for it to succeed.

Still, if anyone can take a nascent market segment and really make it a success, it’s Apple. The iPod, iPhone and iPad were not the first MP3 player, smartphone or tablet to be released, but their huge success shows just what a difference a compelling product and some canny marketing can make. The iPhone has now sold in excess of 250m units.

However, success isn’t always guaranteed even when it comes to this tech giant’s products; Apple TV anyone? Lauded as the future of television when launched in March 2007, the digital media receiver has never really caught the public’s imagination despite a redesign in 2010 and again in 2012. The difference between success and failure of the iWatch could rest heavily on Apple latest recruits.

Reports from Silicon Valley suggest Apple is currently recruiting heavily in its iWatch wrist computer division. Photograph: Getty Images

Mark Brierley is a group editor at Global Trade Media

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage