Smartwatches, NFC and 802.11ac Wi-Fi have long been available on the Android platform, but it’s Apple that will make them mainstream says Steve McCaskill
No tech company polarises public opinion like Apple. In the immediate aftermath of the unveiling of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and Apple Watch last week, Apple fans could barely contain their excitement but others scoffed at the new devices, pointing out that many of the new features are already included in Android rivals.
It’s true that Android smartwatches have been available for some time and many of the platform’s smartphones already have larger screens and Near Field Communication (NFC). Indeed, devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) might look better on paper, but when it comes to reality, Apple has a track record of introducing existing technologies into its products and making them user-friendly.
The iCloud introduced many people to remote storage, FaceTime normalised video calling on a mobile device and the iPad created a whole new market. Apple’s announcements might not excite everyone in pure technical terms, but plenty of mobile companies and payment providers will be eager to see how the Cupertino-based firm’s innovations fare in the market and whether they can create opportunities for others.
Samsung, Sony and Motorola have already released smartwatches but none have assumed market leadership and each company’s devices have struggled to gain traction with consumers. It’s possible they will benefit from Apple’s arrival as consumers begin to see the value of wearable technology, but analysts warn they will have to improve if they are to compete with such a powerful rival.
“Apple rarely invents new markets, despite its reputation. But when Apple launches a new product category it attempts to re-define the market,” says analyst firm HIS. “Examples of Apple’s ability to enter an existing market and transform it include: the iPhone, iPad, and iPod.
“In each case, Apple changed the competitive dynamics and forced existing players to move fast to remain competitive. Current wearable makers must raise their game to respond to Apple or risk a similar market trajectory because today’s Apple is considerably stronger than the company was at the launch of the iPod, iPhone or iPad.”
Observers say Apple has addressed many of the problems with the smartwatch market by producing a customisable, aesthetically pleasing device that people will actually want to wear. However others have pointed out that users still require an iPhone to use the Apple Watch, meaning there is still an opportunity for Android makers to secure market share, especially since the second wave of smartwatches, such as the Samsung Gear S and Moto 360 have been vast improvements.
Mobile Wallet hopes
The mobile payment industry is also set to receive a boost with the inclusion of NFC in the iPhone 6 and the launch of Apple Pay. NFC has been featured in a number of high-end Android smartphones on Android and operators have launched digital wallets that use the technology. But none have enjoyed great success.
Apple has a number of advantages over its competitors. Its users are already used to paying for digital content on their phone and the company has a huge database of credit card details that can easily be added to Apple Pay. It can also offer a level of integration between hardware and software that services on the Android platform simply can’t match.
“If anyone can help make this happen then it is probably Apple,” says Eden Zoller, principal analyst, consumer at Ovum. “NFC, as we expected, is the key enabling technology for mobile proximity payments but TouchID biometrics are also in the equation for authentication and Apple Pay looks set to be integrated with Passbook, which is a natural fit.”
Banks and card providers have already enlisted their support to Apple Pay, which will launch in the US in October, with Barclaycard telling TechWeekEurope it is “very excited” by the service as it uses NFC and supports existing credit and debit cards. This, analysts say, will encourage more retailers to install readers that can accept payments from contactless cards and mobile devices.
However Apple Pay can also be used online with Touch ID – something which could pose a threat to traditional digital wallet providers.
“Apple is also set to enable online checkouts without having to enter card details,” adds Zoller. “This should get PayPal and other online payment providers a little worried, particularly as Apple already has 800 million iTunes accounts on file.
“Apple Pay will make it highly disruptive for many existing digital wallet providers such as Google Wallet and those run by mobile operators, which in many markets are making slow progress.”
A less celebrated feature of the iPhone 6 is its support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Like so many of the other features, it has been included in other smartphones, but network equipment firms say the fact Apple has chosen to include it, means it will become an industry standard.
“802.11ac Gigabit Wi-Fi isn’t new in the mobile space; both Samsung and HTC deployed it last year,” Sarah Eccleston, director of enterprise networks at Cisco UK, told TechWeekEurope. “However the fact that Apple has embraced it means that it’ll gain wider adoption as the de facto industry standard – a fact that will revolutionise the enterprise.
“802.11ac operates in the 5Ghz frequency, thereby dispensing of the over-crowded 2.4GHz range that is prone to interference from Bluetooth signals and even microwave ovens. Now that more devices are compatible, the next phase will see companies keen to capitalise on higher bandwidth and the extended rates of 802.11ac.”
More recent Apple products have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but the company’s ability to take technology that has long been used by its competitors, market if effectively and make it easy to use has never wavered.
When Samsung, Sony or HTC big up their latest device, they talk about quad-core processors, RAM and megapixels. Apple rarely discusses raw specifications but rather says how the technology will be used in everyday life.
It’s easy to poke fun at Apple’s sense of self-importance, even if it is more modest these days, but it’s difficult to find a company more influential in the mobile device market – whether you like It or not – and with four million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices already pre-ordered, it’s unlikely to change in the immediate future.