iWatch: what to expect from Apple's latest gadget

Unofficial iWatch concept art

It's been talked about for years, but Apple-watchers predict the iWatch will finally launch later this year

LAST UPDATED AT 09:47 ON Fri 13 Jun 2014

After years of speculation, confidence is growing that Apple will finally launch the iWatch – a mythical miniature iPhone worn on the wrist – in autumn this year. 

In the absence of official confirmation, internet conjecture has been buiding. So what do the rumours tell us about Apple's move into wearable tech?

What can we expect?

Although product details are a closely guarded secret (the image above and video below are  mock-ups produced by a fan), most sources suggest the iWatch will feature a flexible display, which Apple news site MacRumors suggests will be supplied by LG. Other sources have suggested that Apple will use super-flexible "Willow Glass" made by Corning.

Contrary to early reports, the iWatch is expected to run a full version of Apple's iOS operating system rather than the simplified version used in the iPod nano. In-fact "the company's latest operating system – iOS 8 – has been specifically designed with the iWatch in mind", reports Macrumors. Given the size limitations of a wrist-worn device, it's also likely the product will be voice-controlled via Siri.

The battery will probably be charged via magnetic induction technology similar to that used in Nokia smartphones, which can be placed on a magnetic mat and recharged without the need for cables. Digitaltrends reports that Apple "may also be looking at solar and kinetic energy to supplement wireless charging and help the device last through the day".

What will it do? 

Fitness is expected to take centre stage on the iWatch, and most experts predict the device will feature an array of biometric sensors for gathering health-related data such as heartrate, breathing rate, calorie consumption, body temperature and information on sleeping patterns.

The iWatch is also expected to serve as an accessory for the iPhones, iPads and Macs. It will let wearers control these devices from the wrist and "access common functionality and notifications at a glance", reports Macrumors. "We should also expect all the usual media controls we've seen on existing smartwatches," adds Digitaltrends (see concept video below).

Fingerprint scanners and an NFC chip for wireless payments have also been the subject of much speculation, although opinion remains divided on the likelihood of their inclusion.

One other critical hole in our knowledge of the iWatch is whether it will be able to make phone calls. The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch can only make calls if it's connected to a smartphone – although Samsung has suggested that the next model will function as a standalone phone

How much will it cost?

The general consensus is that several different models will be made to cater for various budgets. Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo predicts that "the most expensive models of the iWatch will carry a price tag of several thousand US dollars". But although Kuo has proved to be an accurate source of Apple news in the past, Business Insider says it will be "stunned" if the price reaches even $1,000 (£600). "Apple is supposed to be a mainstream technology company," it says, "and there's nothing mainstream about a $1,000 smartphone accessory". Analysts at Morgan Stanley suggest that Apple is likely to match the prices of competitors, such as the $300 Samsung Galaxy Gear.

How strong is the competition?

The demand for wearable tech has exploded in the last 18 months – with retail revenues expected to reach $19bn by 2018. Apple is relatively late to the market, with Samsung, Pebble, LG and Sony all having smartwatches on sale or on show. Arch-rival Google has also announced plans for a smartwatch of its own – the G Watch – and in March the tech giant revealed a new Android Wear operating system, which Macworld described as "a game-changing addition in the wearable sphere".

However, none of the smartwatches already on the market have made much of an impact beyond a hardcore of enthusiasts, and Apple has a track record of bringing niche products into the mainstream. The iPod was not the first MP3 player, and nor was the iPhone the first smartphone, but in each case Apple went on to define and dominate the product class. It would be rash to bet against the iWatch. · 

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