July 2, 2013 6:25 pm

Apple makes applications to trademark iWatch name

Apple has made several applications to trademark the brand “iWatch”, fuelling speculation that the iPhone maker could soon launch its first new category of product since Tim Cook became chief executive.

At the same time, Apple has hired Paul Deneve, who has just resigned as chief executive of fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, and whose experience in luxury goods may also be of use in the development and marketing of a smart watch.

Mr Deneve, who worked in Apple’s marketing department in the 1990s before moving into the fashion industry, will be “working on special projects as a vice-president reporting directly to Tim Cook”, Apple said.

Apple’s moves come as Google, Samsung and other electronics companies ready their own smart watches, despite existing devices so far failing to find appeal beyond a niche group of early adopters.

After an iWatch trademark application was identified in Japan by Bloomberg, several more have been spotted in Taiwan, Russia, Mexico and Colombia by Apple bloggers. The filings, which all reference Apple Inc and its address at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, appear to have been made simultaneously on June 3, 2013.

Apple declined to comment on the trademark applications.

Brand registrations have not always been a reliable indicator of Apple’s product intentions. Before the launch of the iPad, many believed Apple’s tablet computer would be named iSlate after its domain name registrations were found in that name.

Nonetheless, besides the trademark applications, patent filings and hints from Apple executives all suggest that a wearable device showing alerts and information from a wirelessly tethered iPhone will launch by next year.

Speaking at the AllThingsD conference in California last month, Mr Cook said that wearable technology was “ripe for exploration” and will be “another very key branch of the tree” in the “post-PC era”, alongside the iPhone and the iPad.

“I think wearables is incredibly interesting,” he said. “I think it could be a profound area for technology.”

Support for the Bluetooth Smart wireless technology in the latest version of the iPhone’s operating system, iOS 7, will make it simpler to set up and use connected devices when it launches later this year.

Even ahead of that, other smart watches are entering the market. The Pebble, a California-based start-up that raised $10m from crowdfunding site Kickstarter, has just struck a distribution agreement with Best Buy, the large electronics retailer. Sony last week launched its SmartWatch 2, which has a colour touchscreen and connects to Android phones. Google’s own Android unit is developing a smart watch too, people familiar with the project told the Financial Times earlier this year, while Samsung executives have talked about their plans for such a device.

However, short battery life and complicated user interfaces have hampered the popularity of existing smart watches.

Apple analysts have seen a new kind of device as crucial for the company to win back favour with investors as growth in the high-end smartphone market slows. Apple’s share price has increased by almost 6 per cent so far this week as news of the iWatch filings emerged. After falling below $400 at the end of June, Apple was trading at $419.32 at midday in New York on Tuesday.

In a research note published on Tuesday, analysts at UBS said that a rumoured cheaper iPhone, probably priced no cheaper than $350, would not “radically change Apple’s market share”. That makes other new products, such as a watch, mobile payments service or automotive integration, more pressing.

“Ultimately, Apple’s success depends on innovation,” UBS said. “However, at least two innovations need to succeed to have sufficient financial impact.”

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