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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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA