The Devil wears Apple: Invites to Tuesday's event signal smartwatch's fashionable intent

Prominent fashion editors and bloggers invited to Sept. 9 roll-out of iPhone and wearable accessories

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Apple has invited prominent fashion editors and bloggers to its Sept. 9 product launch event, according to a report by Reuters. That's a strong signal that the company will introduce a line of wearable devices -- and that it will emphasize the form of those products as much as their function.

On Saturday, Reuters noted that Apple had invited "unprecedented numbers" of fashion experts to the Tuesday event, which will take place at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif.

"I assume it's because they are unveiling a wearable," Lea Goldman, features and special projects director for Marie Claire magazine, told Reuters. "This suggests Apple is serious about tapping into the fashion world, which often sits on the sidelines."

Goldman is a first-time invitee.

In the last two years, Apple has used its September event to unveil new iPhones. Smartphones are still among the products that analysts expect to be announced on Tuesday, and most observers are convinced that Apple will tout a pair of new models, one with a screen measuring 4.7 in. -- up from the current 4-in. display used in the iPhone 5S and 5C -- and another with an even larger 5.5-in. screen.

But in the past few weeks, speculation that Apple will also use the Flint Center to trumpet a line of wearable devices -- dubbed "iWatch" by wags -- has increased.

Few details of the line have emerged, perhaps because Apple will just unveil the wearables at the event but postpone their on-sale date until early 2015.

Apple has used that tactic before. Former CEO Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone in January 2007, but the smartphone did not go on sale until late June of that year. Similarly, in 2010 Jobs unveiled the first iPad in January but his company didn't start selling the tablet until early April.

In both cases, Apple spent the intervening months taking pre-orders and finishing its first runs of product manufacturing while developers used the lag time to prepare Web apps (for the iPhone) and iOS apps (for the iPad) for the new hardware.

A delay between an "iWatch" announcement this week and a sales launch in, say, January or even later, could be used for the same purposes.

Although the iPhone and iPad sold in relatively low volumes their first full quarters -- 270,000 iPhones, 3.3 million iPads -- compared to later periods, the months-long pause after their introductions gave Apple an opportunity to build buzz for the new devices. In the five months before the on-sale date for the original iPhone, blogs and mainstream media websites were crammed with reports anticipating its launch.

Apple's motivation for inviting fashion editors and bloggers should be seen in that same light: Bringing them into the tent may prompt them to add to Apple's free-marketing strategy.

And while Apple has long implied that the iPhone is a fashion statement -- and millions of its customers believe that -- the fact that it has not brought the fashion industry to its hallmark event until now is telling for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the decision to invite fashion professionals suggests that Apple will introduce more than just its usual products. And second, it's a clear indication that the company wants its new wearables to be seen as fashion accessories, not just as gizmos for tech geeks.

"It has to look good on a variety of wrists, not just larger men's wrists. It should be stylish, and recognizable as a fashion accessory and not just a gadget," wrote Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research last month on Tech.pinions.

Even as others questioned the likelihood of an "iWatch," they stressed style in their speculation of what Apple will reveal this week. "As a matter of fact, I don't believe Apple is doing an iWatch at all," said Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies, also on Tech.pinions. "I believe they are creating a powerful and stylish health wearable designed by Jony Ive" [emphasis added].

Ben Thompson, an influential independent analyst who covers technology on Stratechery, pondered the iWatch months ago and argued that Apple's wearable line would be fashion-esque in that it would be a portfolio of devices -- analogous to a clothing line -- rather than just a single, stock device as, for example, Motorola's Moto 360 is.

A fashion angle for an Apple wearable has been a topic of speculation for some time, in part because the secretive Apple can't mask everything. Notably, the company has hired several prominent people from the fashion and luxury accessories industries since at least mid-2013, when it brought on board Paul Deneve, the CEO of Yves Saint Laurent. Since then, it has also hired Angela Ahrendts, chief executive of Burberry, and Patrick Pruniaux, who led sales and retail at Swiss luxury watchmaker Tag Heurer.

Apple's Tuesday event will be webcast from Apple's site and is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Pacific time (1 p.m. Eastern time).


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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