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Teeny-Tiny TV? It's All In the Wrist

2/11/2013 6:59 AM

You know those unceasing rumors of an Apple HDTV? Those are being supplanted, at least this week, by speculation about an Apple "iWatch."

Apple's magic-makers are experimenting with wearable, wristwatch-like devices with curved screens, the New York Times reports (with a follow by Wall Street Journal that corroborates the main points).

Sounds like fun. But the question for the TV industry is: Will anyone watch extended stretches of video on a 1.5-inch wristwatch screen?

I'm not sure I will. But I wouldn't bet against the rising video-everywhere tide.

Yes, a wristwatch device would have a postage-stamp-size screen (though that metaphor is becoming obsolete, given the dwindling relevance of the U.S. Postal Service). People prefer the biggest screen available.

But the ultra-portability of having a video-capable device literally attached to you wherever you go could be the convenience factor that trumps the teeny-tiny screen.

Meanwhile, there's an entire generation that is growing up happily watching TV on smartphones and tablets. I don't understand why my kids prefer to huddle on the couch by themselves watching television shows on a tablet -- even when the TV, just a few feet away, isn't being used. But the handheld experience is often their preference.

Mobile-video consumption is rising but it's still a fraction of time spent watching TV. Mobile subscribers watched 5 hours and 25 minutes of video per month in Q3 2012, according to Nielsen -- up 25% year over year -- while Americans watched an average of 148 hours and 3 minutes of traditional live TV (up 0.9%).

The NYT writer gushes that Apple's "exploration of such a watch leaves open lots of exciting questions" but opines that regardless of what it might look like or cost, "Investors would most likely embrace an iWatch."

For Apple, whose stock is off more than 30% since peaking at $705.07 per share in September, the project appears to be about trying to invent the next category of must-have gadgets after smartphones and tablet segments mature. Given the challenges in marketing an integrated Apple HDTV, an iWatch may be a safer bet.

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