Smart watches The battle for the wrist has begun
Breitling, Bulgari, Frédérique Constant, Gucci, Kenneth Cole, Mondaine, Nixon, Swatch, TAG Heuer, Tissot: what do all these companies have in common? They introduced smart watches before or during the Baselworld fair. For sure, this year was the year of the smart watch.
After having watched this trend over the past months, after Apple announced their watch, there has been a real division of opinion about the commercial viability of the watches and their impact on the established watch industry.
On one side are the doomsayers, who are forecasting another death knell for the luxury watch industry, along the lines of the Quartz Crisis in the 1970s.On the other side are the people not worried at all about smart watches, those who think the two products are unrelated, with a completely different customer.
I find myself standing firmly in the middle, a little bit worried about the impact, but also thinking that getting young people to wear watches could ultimately be the best thing that ever happened to the watch industry.
I teach media at Webster University in Geneva once a week, and the hard truth is that my students don’t wear watches. They use their phones and computers for time references, and it’s the rare student that wears a fine watch, or any watch at all.
This will change, certainly, as they go into the working world and they can’t pull their phone out in the middle of a meeting with clients to check the time. They may ultimately buy watches, but if they get into the habit of wearing a watch earlier in life because of the Apple Watch, or because they need to check the tides on their Nixon, all the better for the future.
I think there are many drawbacks to the Apple Watch, and the first version may be so disappointing to users that even the early adopters will abandon it. First off, the design of the Apple Watch isn’t anything special, which is a surprise, because Apple usually does fantastic design. The Apple Watch is square, like so many other smart watches, and the reality is that 90% of all watches sold are round. Battery life is a concern as well. Though Apple has said that the watch will last 18 hours, with use that figure goes down to three or four hours, which makes it just about useless as a piece of tech.
The smart watches that succeed will offer niche services that people come to depend on. Frederique Constant offered its horological smart watch with health monitoring built in. You can’t get texts or emails, and no one really knows that your watch is smart, but you can monitor your activity and your sleep.
With Nixon’s entry, the watch focuses on surf conditions and alerts you when things are perfect, based on your preferences, at your favorite surf spot. For a diehard surfer, I can’t think of a more perfect smart timepiece.
Many people will adopt smart watches, but they may also continue to wear their better watches. After all, today, watches are not really about telling the time, they are a place where people, and men especially, can illustrate their personality, their style and their take on life. Having a smart watch like millions of other people certainly doesn’t do any of that.
The challenge is if people become so dependent on smart watches that they can’t bear to take them off, even to put on a mechanical masterpiece. If smart watches become indispensable luxury watches could be in serious trouble.
Certainly, the battle for the wrist has begun.
Could be that everybody wins and nobody loses. It’s possible that smart watches and fine watches can peacefully coexist and even thrive.
It’s going to be interesting to watch.
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