Warning: Apple’s special projects team plans a smarter planet

Apple is looking into the potential for truly wearable technology

Apple iOS Marc Newson Jony Ive Wearable Apple Watch Apple Car


Nanotechnology textiles that change color to reflect your moods; T-shirts with heart sensors designed to improve workouts; coats with built-in heating or cooling systems designed for wear in all seasons – sounds like sci-fi, right? It is, but these solutions already exist and now it seems Apple has plans to take a step into the sector.

Apple employee and internationally acclaimed designer, Marc Newson, is working with Apple (60 percent of the time) and close friend Jony Ive on “special projects," he told Evening Standard this week.

“We will start to see more technology embedded in garments,” he told The Standard, “magic woven in. There are some incredible things that are going to happen.”

Magic weave

Newson knows Apple’s proverbial secrecy code so this doesn’t mean Apple is definitely working with nanotechnology textiles, new materials and new wearable sensor technologies. It’s only circumstantial evidence.

It’s the kind of circumstantial evidence we heard from Nike CEO Mark Parker last year, who suggested Apple had “more stylish” wearable ambitions.

I thought you might like to think about even more circumstantial evidence. Here's some of evidence that suggests this industry is ready for Apple’s creative touch:

The bench

Paul Deneve, Apple’s vice president of Special Projects, is the former CEO of Saint Laurent, and he’s got tech and fashion experience. Newson must be working with Deneve on these “special projects."

Apple has a world class sensor design team.

Apple has extensive experience developing and deploying new materials technologies – nanotechnology textiles are materials, just like aluminum.

Apple has iOS-based environments for cars (CarPlay); for the home (HomeKit); for health (Health and ReseachKit) and wearables with Apple Watch. Why would it not create a similar ecosystem for clothing?

Wearable technology is advancing fast. “Made-for-wearable sensors are beginning to reach the market…. In 2025, more than 30% of the sales volume will come from emerging sensor types,” says ABI Research.

We know that flexible screen technology and flexible electrical components already exist. France’s CityZen Sciences is a great place to start if you want to take a deeper look at these.

Problems solved

One problem with connected devices and embedded chips has been the lack of an agreed-upon industry standard. That problem is about to disappear, thanks to the GSMA’s industry agreed Embedded SIM standard. Developed for M2M deployments, this is a common global specification for embedded chips. It includes the capacity to upgrade the software in devices and the SIM and allows users to flip between carriers. Embedded SIMs inside clothing (or indeed an Apple Watch) will open up new opportunity for intelligent smart devices.

Energy is another challenge, but solar and kinetic energy patents are being developed by Apple.

Materials, connectivity, energy and expertise conundrums are being resolved, making it possible to more easily visualize the potential for smart wearables. Newson says these things will be “magic."

Remain calm

Don’t get too excited. These things take time and you won’t be picking up an iOS smartshirt tomorrow (but take a look at these). Still, I’m reasonably confident Apple’s working on smart haute couture – that expensive Apple Watch is just a sign. I anticipate we will see an Apple Car first (around 2020?) “There is certainly vast opportunity in that area to be more intelligent,” Newson said, referring to the Apple Car.

There’s so much going on in Cupertino. Apple Tim Cook said last year: "We're working on other things as well and to the degree that I can keep that in the cone of silence, I am going to do it…. We're fortunate to have a lot of creative people here that want to change the world and have a lot of great ideas."

Apple is expanding.

WWDC 2015 Coverage

We will be working hard to keep you informed of Apple’s announcements at WWDC next week, so check back for the link to the live blog and do take a look at this slideshow presentation of Apple's 12 most important WWDC announcements ever made. Meanwhile please read:

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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