TECHNOLOGY

Apple Dropped The Biggest Hint Yet That An 'iWatch' Is Coming

06/02/2014 07:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2014

Apple just offered the most tantalizing clues yet that an "iWatch" is coming.

At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday in San Francisco, Apple executives showed off the latest versions of Apple's mobile operating system, iOS 8, which comes with features that would work pretty darn well with a smartwatch.

Most wearable devices sold now are those that monitor health, tracking activity and sleep.

On Monday, Apple got into the health tracking game with HealthKit, a platform that will bring together data from different types of health-monitoring devices, like fitness trackers (think of devices from Jawbone and Fitbit), heart rate monitors and blood pressure monitors. The platform will sync with apps from third-party companies like Nike.

"We think this is going to be really important for health care," said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering.

"Right now they are laying the groundwork, building the infrastructure that will set the stage for the later release of an iWatch," JP Gownder, an analyst at Forrester who covers wearable technology, said after the event.

The new Apple app will not only collect this data, but has the ability to notify your health care provider if anything is amiss.

In order for a wearable device to be successful, Gownder has argued, it needs an ecosystem -- companies and organizations that work with a device. This is what Apple is doing with HealthKit -- relying on data from third-party devices and then, with your permission, Apple says, sending that data to others.

"It will be much more compelling if they brought their own fitness tracker to it, and that will presumably come with iWatch," Gownder said.

"Healthbook software will someday soon lead to health hardware," Brian Colello, an analyst at Morningstar, said before Monday's event, using the name of HealthKit that had leaked to the press prior to the developer's conference. "And that means a wearable like an iWatch."

"The important thing to consider in wearables is that it has to do more than what your smartphone can do," Colello added. "It can't just be your smartphone on your wrist while your phone is in your purse. That's not enough of a reason to buy a $300 or more device."

Some updates to iOS 8, the new version of Apple's mobile operating system that will be available in the fall, also seem like they'd be a natural fit on a wrist-worn device. A new feature called QuickType learns how you converse and, based on who you're communicating with, will predict the next word or phrase you'll type. Texting on a smaller screen is difficult, so intelligent predictive texting would be very useful on a smartwatch.

But what could be even more useful on a smartwatch is not having to type at all. In its mobile operating system update, Apple added the ability to send a voice recording as an iMessage. It's pretty easy to imagine quickly responding to an iMessage by speaking into your watch, Dick Tracy style.

Apple also announced Handoff, a feature that allows iPhone, iPad and Mac owners to start a task on one device -- say, writing an email or making a phone call -- and finish it on another. Again, it's easy to envision answering a call on an iWatch, then switching to your iPhone.

Although Apple's stock has rebounded over the last year, investors and analysts are getting restless waiting for the "exciting new products" that Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised. While many predict an iWatch is coming, along with a bigger iPhone 6 and Apple-designed TV, not all are convinced.

Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, is "somewhat skeptical" that Apple will release a watch at all, and on Monday saw even more evidence pointing in that direction.

"I think to some extent HealthKit is a recognition by Apple that in fact it's better served by having good support for a range of third-party wearable hardware than necessarily trying to do it all itself," Dawson said.

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