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The Shift to Smart Clothing


March 6, 2019

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Apple CEO Tim Cook recently published a letter to Apple shareholders, addressing the company’s decline in iPhone sales. On the bright side, Apple’s non-iPhone revenue continues to grow almost nineteen percent per year. Apple wearables experienced over $10 billion in sales in the year ended September 2018, which Cook says is already “fifty percent more than iPod was at its peak.” With sales of products like the Apple Watch and AirPods growing almost fifty percent year-over-year, Apple’s future success may be dependent on a shift towards wearable products.


As discussed in an Inverse article, a patent application by Apple was recently published, titled “Fabric-Based Items With Electrical Component Arrays”. The patent describes a fabric-based item intertwined with electrical components. The technology is still in progress as there are several engineering challenges. For example, electrical components must be safely weaved into the fabric without causing damage if bent or stretched.


Apple has been granted similar smart clothing patents in the past. If Apple can successfully integrate a flexible electrical circuit into fabric, products such as wrist bands, clothing, furniture, and wallets with embedded screens may be the next big trend. Smart clothing technology could be used to transform traditional iPhones and iPads to screens on your sleeve. The technology could also be used to monitor vital signs, such as body temperature, heart rate and respiration.


Apple is not the only company in pursuit of smart clothing. In 2017, Google released a smart jacket in partnership with Levi. The denim jacket uses Google’s Jacquard technology to connect wirelessly to a smart phone and lets users control audio, navigation, receive alerts, and more with the sleeve of their jacket. So far, the jacket appears to have received mixed reviews.


As to Apple’s ability to innovate in this segment, Cook assured shareholders that the company is committed to flexibility, adaptability and creativity, and confirmed that new products are in the pipeline.

Authors: Sarah Stothart and Christina Liao


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