By Todd Bernhard on Mon, 06/23/2014
Armchair athletes may be fine with products from FitBit, Jawbone, and the like, but Apple appears to be going for top shelf athletes. This fall's announcement of an Apple iWatch is an all-but-foregone conclusion, but the difference may be that Apple is seeking the feedback from star athletes like Kobe Bryant. The Beats acquisition demonstrates Apple's attention to celebrity endorsements. While rappers and musicians care deeply about sound quality, professional athletes care deeply about their health!
If true, these rumors, reported by 9to5mac and others, would also represent a shift from Apple's deep security measures, where even Apple employees are not allowed to see next generation products. Allowing someone from the outside to use such a gadget is a major shift from the days when an Apple engineer accidentally left an early iPhone 4 prototype in a bar. Additionally, Apple should have learned a lesson from Dr. Dre's late night social media admission that he was about to become the first billionaire rapper.
This time, the athletes were said to have signed non-disclosure agreements and had a private tour of Apple's facility with design guru Jony Ive. Unlike Elvis, it's unlikely that any proprietary Apple gear has left the building. Also of note, Mr. Bryant already signed an endorsement deal with luxury watch maker, Hublot. This could get interesting. If the iWatch is treated more as a health and fitness device, then it shouldn't be a conflict.
Still, Apple has no smartwatch line of products to protect. Unlike the original iPhone, an iWatch will not be a shocker at this stage. Pebble raised millions for their smartwatch on Kickstarter. Samsung, Google, and Motorola have all released or announced a variety of gear for your wrist. Apple's Tim Cook has already admitted that Apple will play in new categories. WWDC's announcement of the HealthKit framework telegraphs Apple's direction for smart wearable devices. If rumors of a Kobe Bryant endorsed iWatch make potential buyers wait for Apple instead of springing for a competitor's gadget, then that could be a good strategy!