What Does Apple’s Latest Hire Mean for the iWatch?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) long-rumored iWatch — the iOS powered wearable tech product that is expected to debut sometime this fall — is widely believed to be the Cupertino-based company’s answer to wrist-worn devices made by rivals such as Samsung (SSNLF.PK) and Motorola. However, Apple’s latest hire suggests that the iWatch’s biggest competitors may be luxury watchmakers, rather than other smartwatch makers.

In what appears to be another sign that the company is positioning its rumored iWatch device as a luxury item, Apple has poached yet another executive from a renowned European luxury brand. TAG Heuer recently told Reuters that vice president for sales Patrick Pruniaux will be leaving the Swiss luxury watch brand to start a new job at Apple on Monday. TAG Heuer is a watch brand owned by multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH. Although it is not known what Pruniaux’s role at Apple will be, it seems likely that he will be involved with the marketing of Apple’s fabled wearable tech device.

Apple’s interest in acquiring employees from Switzerland’s vaunted horology industry was first reported by the Financial Times earlier this year. The Financial Times cited multiple sources in the industry that reported that Apple was trying to poach Swiss watchmakers from various watch brands owned by LVMH. The Financial Times sources also suggested that Apple was seeking watchmakers, rather than executives, leading to speculation that the iWatch would be a hybrid device that combined traditional mechanical watch movements with modern electronics technology.

However, as a sales executive, Pruniaux’s primary expertise is in marketing, rather than watchmaking. This follows the pattern of other luxury industry hires that Apple has made over the past year. Last summer, it was revealed that Apple had hired Paul Deneve, the former CEO of exclusive French fashion retailer Yves Saint Laurent. More recently, Apple hired Angela Ahrendts — the former CEO of iconic British luxury fashion house Burberry — to head the iPhone maker’s retail and online store operations.

Last month, an unnamed insider source cited by 9to5Mac’s well-connected Apple commentator Mark Gurman reported that the iWatch will be marketed primarily as a fashion accessory, despite featuring multiple health-monitoring and fitness-tracking sensors. Several media outlets have also reported rumors that Apple’s wearable tech device will include various sensors for monitoring calorie consumption, blood sugar levels, oxygen saturation, sleep activity, and more. The rumors about the health-monitoring aspects of the iWatch were further bolstered when Apple unveiled the HealthKit data storage platform at the Worldwide Developers Conference last month. HealthKit functions as a repository for the data collected by various health-related mobile apps, including Apple’s own Health app. The data can then be accessed by Apple’s healthcare partners, such as the prominent Mayo Clinic.

There are also rumors that suggest Apple will release multiple iWatch models that may be geared toward different market segments. Insider sources cited by The Wall Street Journal last month predicted that at least two different versions of the iWatch would be released. One model may be aimed at the luxury watch market, while a less expensive version may be aimed at the mainstream wearable tech market. This was the view expressed by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in a research note to investors earlier this year.

“Fashion is the name of the game; most expensive model likely priced at several thousand US dollars,” wrote Kuo in a research note obtained by 9to5Mac.  “Referring to the rules of the fashion market, we predict the iWatch casing and band will come in various materials. The most expensive model of the iWatch line will carry a price tag of several thousand US dollars. Assuming the iWatch proves to be a success, we expect Apple’s key competitors in 5-10 years will be the current fashion brands, not the existing tech companies.”

While it remains to be seen if Kuo’s prediction comes true, at least one Swiss watch industry executive has already revealed that he shares the KGI Securities analyst’s perspective. “The iWatch will have the same status symbol power as many other Apple products, especially at the beginning,” LVMH executive and Hublot brand CEO Jean-Claude Biver told Reuters. “I personally believe it has the potential to be a threat for the industry, and it should not stay with its arms crossed.”

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