Apple has hired the ex-CEO of fashion company Yves Saint Laurent. Does this move, along with other actions by the technology giant, indicate that it is heading toward the release of an iWatch and possibly other wearables?
Paul Deneve, formerly of the clothing and perfume company that was recently renamed Saint Laurent Paris, has been appointed a vice president at Apple, and he will report directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Apple said only that Deneve will work on "special projects," although there has been some speculation that his role could involve oversight or consulting about the company's retail stores. Last year, executive John Browett left his role as head of Apple's retail efforts, after having served in that position for less than a year. That position has not been filled.
Prior to Saint Laurent, Deneve headed up two other fashion brands, Lanvin and Nina Ricci. In the 1990s, he worked for Apple/Europe in sales and marketing. Yves Saint Laurent's line of products includes fashionable watches, which is one of the reasons that his hire could fit into the team needed to successfully launch Apple's entry into wearables. However, YSL products are typically priced at a higher level than even Apple's premium pricetags, such as $625 for a pair of women's shoes or $5,000 for a leather jacket.
News of the hire comes on the heels of reports earlier this week that Apple has filed to register the iWatch trademark in Mexico, Japan, Russia, and Taiwan.
There have been reports for months that Apple has hundreds of people engaged in developing the iWatch, and there have been similar reports about Samsung and other major companies. Sony has already released the second version of its SmartWatch and various independent efforts, such as the Kickstarter-funded Pebble watch, are also working their way into general release.
Many of the touchscreen watch devices act as wrist-located peripherals for a paired smartphone, to which it connects via Bluetooth. A key question is whether Apple can pull the rabbit out of the hat once more, revolutionizing a category that barely existed as it has done before with the graphically-interfaced Mac or with the iPod, iPhone or iPad.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that "while it isn't clear why Deneve has been hired," it is a "safe assumption" that many companies will be releasing wearable computing devices this fall, with Apple quite possibly among them.
He pointed out that the time is right for wearables, especially since the popularity of smartphones in people's pockets means that a smart watch doesn't need to do all of the computing, storage or connectivity, but can piggyback on its larger sibling. This means, Greengart said, that companies can create "partial solutions" that deliver useful functionality, but the key question is "what functions are users willing to pay for?"
He noted that Apple has not yet put near-field communication (NFC) capability for mobile payments into its iPhones, so perhaps one worth-paying-for function of an iWatch could be the ability to pay for things by tapping your wrist against a retailer's terminal.