Apple's first wearable computer project surfaced in 2008 in the form of a video headset that may one day surface either as an iDevice accessory or one that's related to gaming. That particular invention has since been granted a patent. Yet it's Apple's most recent wearable computer invention that seems to have ignited something big at Apple. Once the buzz surrounding a possible future Apple iWatch-like computer hit fever pitch levels we began to hear news about a new special projects team forming at Apple. In early July we learned that Apple hired Ex-Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve to work on "Special Projects." Then the news of Bob Mansfield, Senior VP of Technologies was shifting to work on "Special Projects." Yesterday, Apple reportedly hired one of Nike's top Fuel Band Designers Ben Shaffer to work on "Special Projects."
Reporting for 9to5Mac, Mark Gurman states that "Apple has lured away top Nike design director Ben Shaffer, according to a source at Nike with knowledge of the details behind Shaffer's departure. At Nike, Shaffer was the Studio Director of the Innovation Kitchen. This is Nike's research and development lab where new product designs are created."
Ben Shaffer's favorite project at Nike was Flyknit, a project that gave birth to a revolutionary feather light running shoe that Nike claimed would "turn the shoe industry on its head." Nike's "Innovation Kitchen" played a factor in Fast Company awarding Nike the most innovative company in 2013.
Ben Shaffer discussed the Flyknit project and more in an interview with Highsnobiety back in February that's insightful. Apple hiring the high profile Shaffer is an indication that the "Special Projects" team is a top priority at Apple.
Yet in the big picture, Apple's latest hire doesn't necessarily translate into the Special Projects team focusing on an iWatch-like wearables device alone.
In respect to a wristwatch-like wearable computer, Apple's CEO Tim Cook stated during his D11 interview that "the ones [smartwatches] that are doing more than one thing, there's nothing great out there that I've seen. There's nothing out there to convince a kid who has never worn glasses, or a band or a watch to wear one. So there's lots of things to solve in this space, but it's an area where it's ripe for exploration …" I see it as something as another key branch of the tree. I think wearables could be another branch on this." Then Cook quipped that it would be something to discuss at D20 (which would literally translate to being the year 2022).
When pushed on where Apple stood on wearable computers, Cook stated that Apple's interested in a "great product." He thought that the wrist was interesting. Though he quickly added that "If we had a room full of ten to twenty year olds and we said everybody stand up who has a watch on, I'm not sure anybody would stand up. I just don't see it. If you look at what kids are wearing … their watch is this (pointing to an iPhone)."
So yes, Apple is interested in the wrist as an area for future wearables and it's something that could materialize down the road, but if Cook's commentary is any indicator, then Apple's interest in a wearable computer may not necessarily reside with a smartwatch – alone. Beyond Apple's video headset, they've also been known to have worked on an advanced skiwear project that syncs with a smartwatch and ski boots that work with coded magnets.
While we're still in the dark as to which wearable computer product Apple will initially put their full weight behind, at least for today we know that Apple has just hired another "Think Different" kind of star designer for their "Special Projects" team.