Is Apple About to Make a Huge Bet on Wearable Computing?


Photo credit: Burberry.

Apple isn't content to let Google be the top dog in wearable computing. Or at least that's how it looks to me. I can't think of another good reason Apple would hire CEO Angela Ahrendts away from Burberry, one of its best partners in the fashion world.

Officially, she'll take a newly created senior vice president position reporting to Apple CEO Tim Cook. A press release describes the job as overseeing the "strategic direction, expansion, and operation" of Apple's retail stores -- both online and offline.

"I am thrilled that Angela will be joining our team," Cook said in a statement. "She shares our values and our focus on innovation, and she places the same strong emphasis as we do on the customer experience. She has shown herself to be an extraordinary leader throughout her career and has a proven track record."

Is that really all there is to this hire? Finding someone with the skills and track record to replace Ron Johnson, Apple's former retail chief, who went on to crash and burn at J.C. Penney? I'm not buying it.

I've seen the numbers, and wearable computing is a multibagger market in the making. Estimates vary when it comes to just how big the opportunity could be, of course. But every analyst weighing in -- at least that I've seen -- estimates sales of hundreds of millions of different types of devices within a few years. (Business Insider helpfully compiled a few of the prognostications here.)

Google, meanwhile, has no plans to concede the fashionista market to Apple.

According to the Associated Press, some 10,000 are now part of the Google Glass pilot program. That's an impressive installed base for a product that's still in the early stages.

Marketing appears to be helping foster demand. The search king recently cooperated with Vogue magazine for a series of spreads featuring Google Glass in its signature fall fashion issue. Not long after, the specs were spotted throughout the streets of Manhattan during New York Fashion Week. Other reports say Google is in talks with Rule Breaking eyewear designer Warby Parker to create a next-generation design.

The battle is just beginning, in other words. In hiring Ahrendts -- and before her, former Yves St Laurent chief Paul Deneve -- I believe Apple is gathering ammunition for an all-out assault on the market for wearable computing. Billions are at stake, after all. And Apple, which hasn't introduced a new product category since the iPad three and a half years ago, could use another growth catalyst.

Do you agree? What do you expect to be Apple's first foray into wearable computing? Leave your comments in the box below.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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