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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.