Wearable technology could outpace traditional cellphones.
FORTUNE — Could Apple be developing an iWatch?
The blogosphere speculated over the holidays, and now Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has come right out and said as much, stating in a report out earlier this week that the company will eventually come out with a “wearable computer” next year or later.
Munster views the “wearable computer” as a major future tech trend and one significant, untapped revenue stream for Apple AAPL . A watch could be just one of several new products worn on the body. The idea is much like Google’s GOOG upcoming augmented reality eyewear, Project Glass, that lets users to do things contemporary smartphones already do, like place voice calls, text, search the Web, and navigate via voice control.
Munster also argues that since these Apple devices would perform closely enough to the iPhone, the need for the iPhone itself or tablet could become null and void. Timeframe for extinction: Over the next 10-plus years. “Longer term, screens in glasses or projectors could replace the necessity of a screen from a smartphone or tablet,” writes Munster, who argues they’re likely to be cheaper than an iPhone and could ultimately be Apple’s best answer to addressing emerging markets.
One thing is for sure: the disparate strands of wearable computing are finally starting to come together. Aside from Google’s much publicized glasses, Nike’s NKE Nike+ series of products as well as Jawbone’s UP band give a glimpse into a potential future when every movement is tracked and tabulated. Advances like longer-lasting batteries, smaller accelerometers, and cheaper radio components also have firms such as ARM , Qualcom , and Intel driving the push to stitch circuitry into clothing and apparel.
Interestingly enough, he also envisions a potential gender divide when it comes to the popularity of wearable computers. If an iWatch is designed on the larger side, it could prove more popular with men than women. Says Munster: “It is less likely women will embrace them given women’s watches tend to be smaller with a greater emphasis on fashion.” Truth or just plain sexist? You decide.