It’s Coming: Apple’s Move into Wearable Tech

| Analysis

Get ready for disruption in the wearable tech market. Apple wants to get in on the game.The wearable tech market is exploding with products and more are coming all the time. Apple is missing from the game right now, but it's a pretty safe bet the iPhone and iPad maker has something up its sleeve, and with Nike FuelBand developer Jay Blahnik now on board those plans are getting serious.

Jay Blahnik is a well known fitness instructor and was instrumental in helping Nike design its FuelBand fitness and activity tracker. He knows how to get people in shape, and has plenty of experience in the world of wearable tech. That sounds like a pretty good mix for Apple's wearable technology design team.

According to reports, Apple hired Mr. Blahnik in early August although the company hasn't said exactly what he'll be doing. Considering his background, it's likely he'll be helping with wearable technology products.

Earlier this year Apple hired former Yves St Laurent executive Paul Deneve to work on what the company is calling special projects. Apple isn't saying what those special projects include, but it doesn't take much of a leap to assume that means wearable technology.

To help back up that idea, Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly said his company is very interested in wearable technology. During an interview earlier this year at the AllThingsD Conference, Mr. Cook said Apple is "extremely interested" in the market, adding, "There are lots of gadgets in the [wearable] space. I would say that the ones that are doing more than one thing, there's nothing great out there that I've seen."

Translation: This is a market that's ripe for an Apple move.

With someone on board that knows the fitness market and has experience in wearable tech (Mr. Blahnik) and someone that understands Apple's culture and the fashion world (Mr. Denveve), the special projects team needs to be a leader, and that's Bob Mansfield. After a year into his promised two-year return to Apple, Mr. Mansfield dropped his Senior Vice President of Technologies title to become the guy working on special projects and reporting directly to Mr. Cook.

With the team in place Apple needs to decide exactly what it wants to focus on in the wearable tech world, and it's clear that doesn't include glasses. Mr. Cook said products like Google Glass serve a niche market and that he hasn't seen anything "that's going to convince a kid that's never worn glasses or a band or a watch or whatever to wear one."

If not glasses, then either something like a wrist band -- think smart watch -- or a device that attaches somewhere on your clothing, like the FitBit One. Products such as the Pebble smart watch, FitBit One, Withings Pulse, Nike FuelBand, Lark Life, and Misfit Shine are already on the market and offer similar feature sets. Apple needs to differentiate itself from the products that are currently available, just as it did with the iPod in the media player market and the iPhone in the smartphone market.

Apple is good at making compelling products that stand on their own but are even more useful when used with other products the company makes. Apple TV, for example, is great but becomes much cooler when used to stream video wirelessly from your iPad or iPhone. The recent purchase of Passif, a company that makes low power radio chips, may play into Apple's wearable tech plans there.

Passif just so happens to make a low energy Bluetooth chip -- technology that's been seen as key in fitness and health monitoring devices. With the company under Apple's wing, Passif's engineers can work directly with the teams designing wearable tech products so its wireless chips perform as efficiently as possible, and that ultimately translates to better battery life and more reliable data connections.

That also puts Apple in a good position to make sure its wearable tech performs well on its own while working well with Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Apple could make a smartwatch that tracks fitness activity, syncs the data it collects with your iPhone, and also acts as a sort of remote control shuttling data to and from your iOS devices.

Exactly how to fit all those pieces together in a compelling way is the real trick, and that's where the special projects team comes in. Mr. Mansfield knows how to lead teams that make successful products; he's already done that for Apple more than once. With his team in place, it looks like it's only a matter of time before we find out if Apple has another iPhone success on its hands, or a Apple Hi-Fi flop.

Comments

aardman

When talk first began about an Apple iWatch, my thoughts were that Apple needs to take this where no one can follow them.  And the only place is high fashion because only the Apple brand has the cachet to rub elbows with top line fashion houses.  Samsung doesn’t.  Not Google or Moto.  Not Microsoft or Nokia.  Only Apple.  If Apple’s wearable line successfully marries tech and haute couture, no one can follow them there.  They’ll own the (profitable) high end of the wearable tech market pretty much forever, I thought.

Then Apple hired Mr. Deneve.  I should be a consultant or analyst or some kind of paid talking head.  Or a carnival barker.  Same difference.

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