Apple has picked up its hiring for the project in recent weeks, says FT's source, in hopes that fresh talent can help it resolve "hard engineering problems that they've not been able to solve." Perhaps most unnerving, the report says Apple CEO Tim Cook may still decide to scrap the project, which has been rumored to be in the works since early this year.
In addition to new hires, Apple is weighing "aqui-hires," wherein it purchases small companies that already have resources behind a smartwatch-like product in order to gain the employees and the technology together.
In addition to Apple's recruiting plans, the company is also trying hard to retain the talent already associated with the project.
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The timing of the hiring also provides some clues on the potential release date of the project. Many analysts had expected (or perhaps hoped?) the iWatch, a trademark that Apple holds in several countries, to debut before the end of 2013. Apple has hinted that its product roadmap for the latter part of 2013 and early part of 2014 is fairly full. Apple's hiring practices, however, suggest that the iWatch may not be ready until closer to the end of 2014 rather than the end of this year.
Apple did not comment on FT's report.
Apple is not alone in its pursuit of a new breed of smartwatch, and it has become a silent race of sorts to see which company will get such a product to market first. Apple's competitors Google, Microsoft and Samsung are all said to be working on smartwatches. Sony recently announced its second generation smartwatch, the SmartWatch 2. Pebble released its own device early this year. There's no doubt the pressure is on.
At the moment, smartwatches are ill defined. Sony's for example, is a fancy accessory that needs a smartphone for many functions. It can be a standalone workout device, but requires a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone for messaging functions. Motorola's MOTOACTV, which is out of production, has similar limitations.
The industry is waiting to see what Apple, Google and Microsoft do with the idea behind the smartwatch to see if they expand the segment's somewhat limited scope. Will they all use NFC, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi; will music playback functionality be built in or will they require a smartphone; how will they be used to answer/reject calls? These and many other questions remain unanswered. Whichever company gets its product to market first may very well define what consumers expect from smartwatches.
Based on the Financial Times's report, it appears unlikely that Apple will be the one that sets the tone for what smartwatches can do.