Apple just hired Paul Deneve, CEO of fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, as a vice president in charge of “special projects.”
Deneve, who worked for Apple in the 1990s, will report directly to CEO Tim Cook. As to what he’ll be working on—well, that’s a matter of intense speculation. Given his experience in fashion, it’s safe to assume those aforementioned “special projects” could involve wearable electronics, such as the much-rumored “iWatch.”
Although Apple hasn’t officially unveiled a timepiece, media outlets have speculated for months that one’s in development. Software features remain unclear, but it’s possible that such a device would respond to verbal commands, display messages and emails, help wearers navigate, and even act as a digital wallet or biometric reader.
An “iWatch” could also make Apple a little richer: in March, Citigroup analyst Oliver Chen told Bloomberg that the hypothetical device could earn as much as $6 billion a year, a sizable fraction of the $60 billion global timepiece market.
If Apple plunges into wearable electronics, it won’t be alone: Samsung, Microsoft, and other tech giants are reportedly working on “smart watches.” Google has begun marketing Google Glass, an augmented-reality headset that feeds information to a tiny screen embedded in the right lens. If the category proves a hit among consumers and businesses, it could benefit all the third-party developers who’ll build apps for all the new hardware on the market: more downloads, more customers, and ultimately more cash.
But a burgeoning wearable-electronics segment could cause headaches for companies in a number of industries. Simply put, “smart watches” and augmented-reality headsets will allow consumers to consume and produce more data than ever before—data that will need to be categorized, analyzed and stored, often at considerable extra cost. This isn’t a matter of Apple or Google opening a new datacenter in order to deal with an influx of video footage from an “iWatch” or Google Glass: businesses of all sizes that had to radically readjust their internal and external practices to deal with the rise of smartphones and tablets will need to do so again, to handle the load from devices that are even more mobile.
For example, if “smart watches” that record biometric data become ubiquitous, healthcare providers will need to adjust storage and analytics policies to take into account that new flood of information. Media companies may need to adjust piracy and security protocols in order to deal with customers discretely capable of recording anything via their glasses or other wearable item. The possibilities are endless.
If that wasn’t enough, there are significant privacy concerns. In a recent survey of adults in the United States and the U.K.— commissioned by Rackspace in association with the Centre for Creative and Social Technology (CAST) at Goldsmiths, University of London— roughly half of the respondents saw privacy concerns as a major barrier to the adoption of wearable tech. Some two-thirds of them thought Google Glass and similar hardware should be regulated in some way, and 20 percent believed such devices should be banned from use.
Whether or not governments put regulations into place with regard to wearable electronics, companies will have to deal with the privacy and security implications in their own way. A few have already begun to move in that direction; Google banned Google Glass from its own shareholder meeting, for instance. Welcome to the future.