Apple CEO hints wearable devices might be next area of interest

Apple CEO Tim Cook signalled this week that the company's next new product might be a wearable computing device, possibly one worn on the wrist, while speaking at a technology conference in Silicon Valley.

'The wrist is interesting,' Tim Cook tells technology conference

Many technology watchers have been speculating on what Apple's next game-changing product will be, and this week CEO Tim Cook hinted at a technology conference that it might be some type of wearable computing device. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Apple CEO Tim Cook signalled that the company's next new product might be a wearable computing device.

He told a technology conference in Silicon Valley on Tuesday that so-called wearables are an area "ripe for exploration."

"I think wearables is incredibly interesting. I think it could be a profound area for technology," Cook told moderators Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at D: All Things Digital, an annual conference hosted by the technology website All Things D, which is owned by Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

While refusing to say explicitly whether Apple will, indeed, be getting into this area of computing, Cook outlined the kind of products he thinks could be successful with a younger generation of consumers who have gotten out of the habit of wearing accessories such as watches and even glasses.

"I think the wrist is interesting," he said. "For something to work here, you first have to convince people it's so incredible that they want to wear it."

Highlights Nike's Fuelband as success

He cited Nike's FuelBand, a rubberized wrist band that allows wearers to monitor their fitness workouts by tracking speed, distance and oxygen intake, as an example of a product that does a specific function well but said that to date, devices that have tried to integrate several different functions have not been as successful.

"There's nothing [on the market] that's going to convince a kid who has never worn glasses or a band or a watch or whatever to wear one," Cook said. "There's lots of things to solve in this space."

Still, he said he anticipates many companies will be exploring wearables as well as sensor technologies, which are being incorporated into a growing number of devices in order to allow people to remotely control more and more aspects of their lives.

"It's a little kind of all over the place right now," Cook said of the sensor technology field, "but with the arc of time, it will become clear, I think."

By contrast, Cook said he didn't see much broad appeal for products like Google Glass, glasses that augment reality by displaying all kinds of additional data about the people and objects you see in front of you.

"I wear glasses because I have to; I don't know a lot of people that wear them that don't have to," he said. "People who do wear them generally want them to be light, unobtrusive. They probably want them to reflect their fashion, their style. I think from a mainstream point of view this [the popularity of high-tech glasses] is difficult to see."

Environmental appointee, tax hearing also discussed

During his appearance at the conference, Cook also announced that Lisa Jackson, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has been hired to co-ordinate Apple's environmental policies, which have recently come under greater scrutiny along with its labour practices

Cook also addressed criticism that the company has not launched a new game-changing product since the iPad.

"We have some incredible plans that we have been working on for a while," he said. "The [game-changing] culture is all still there, and many of the people are still there. We have several more game changers in us."

He said television is still an "area of great interest" for the company, which has sold more than 13 million of its Apple TV digital receivers to date, but would not give specifics on the new TV-related project Apple reportedly has in the works.

He also discussed his appearance before a Senate subcommittee hearing into Apple's and other U.S. companies' exploitation of tax loopholes to minimize their corporate tax burden by moving parts of their profit to foreign subsidiaries.

He argued in favour of applying Apple's philosophy of simplicity in design to the U.S. tax code.

"Apple's tax return is two-feet high; it's absolutely crazy," he said. "I would suggest we gut it, throw away all the tax expenditures, lower the rate and then set a reasonable tax to bring offshore profits back to the U.S."

(Tax expenditures are the provisions of the tax code that enable companies to lower their tax liability.)

Cook was one of several high-profile CEOs from the technology sector to appear at the All Things Digital conference, which runs until Thursday at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Cisco's John Chambers and Twitter's Dick Costolo also spoke at the event.