Déjà Vu

You can find clues for how the iWatch will work in these Steve Jobs-era Apple wearables

July 20, 2014
Obsession
Mobile Web
July 20, 2014

Apple is widely reported to be working on some sort of wearable gadget, which could possibly debut as soon as this fall. Many people think the device—or devices—will compete with some of the fitness bands and smartwatches that have hit the market in recent years. But no substantial details have leaked.

One thing’s for sure: It won’t be Apple’s first piece of wearable technology. Apple has sold several such devices—and accessories—over the years, and they may provide some clues about Apple’s intentions and habits. We admit this is a stretch of the imagination—but it’s also a useful exercise.

Apple’s first—and best-selling—wearable devices are its iconic white earbuds, which debuted in 2001 with the original iPod.

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Apple iPod earbud ad
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

These weren’t—and aren’t—very high-quality earphones, but that wasn’t the point. Most importantly, they stood out. For years, before every other company knocked them off, they told the world that you were hip—and wealthy—enough to buy an iPod.

Expect Apple’s wearable devices to look unique and to make a statement.

Apple also made a clip-on iPod remote control for a while.

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Apple iPod remote

These weren’t very popular and were eventually discontinued. (They didn’t work particularly well with Apple’s already-long earbud cords.)

They seem to have been modeled after similar remote controls that companies like Sony included with some of their music players. But they were simpler: Many Sony remotes for MiniDisc and Discman players included tiny LCD screens to display things like song titles, elapsed time, and other information. Apple’s didn’t overreach necessity. (However, a later model also included a FM radio tuner.)

Perhaps Apple’s wearables will be far simpler than everyone thinks—especially compared to strangely complicated devices like these early Android smartwatches. Maybe one or all of them won’t have screens.

The iPod shuffle was an iPod for your body.

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Steve Jobs iPod shuffle keynote
(Reuters/Lou Dematteis)

The iPod shuffle did a few things for Apple. For starters, it was the first iPod under $100, which made owning an iPod a possibility for more people. That pulled more people into the Apple technology ecosystem, potentially increasing future sales of other iPod models, iTunes media, Macs, and later iPhones and iPads. This will likely be a goal for whatever Apple is working on now—it will almost certainly require a companion iPhone, iPad, or Mac—or an Apple iCloud account.

The iPod shuffle also helped teach Apple how a single-function, wearable device should look and work. The first version could hang around your neck via a clever lanyard that latched onto its USB port. Later versions were even smaller—basically a clip with a button.

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Steve Jobs iPod Shuffle
(Reuters/Dino Vournas)

Apple messed up with one iPod shuffle design, which was too minimalistic—it had no action buttons at all, forcing people to use headphones with their own remote control.

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Apple 2009 model iPod shuffle with no buttons

Apple retreated and changed the design back. Lesson here: Sometimes being too simple is too complicated.

Apple described an old iPod nano model as “instantly wearable”—and people designed watch bands for it.

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Steve Jobs iPod nano wearable
(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

This happened almost four years ago. It’s interesting that today’s Android smartwatches are basically souped-up versions of this old iPod with a Kickstarter watch band.

It seems to suggest that Apple’s new wearable device won’t look or work like this. If this was the right answer, wouldn’t Apple have just kept it going?

Read this next: These are not the wearables we’ve been waiting for

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