The smartwatch is dead…long live the smartwatch!
Mark Twain once famously quipped “The report of my death was an exaggeration”, and one could forgive the smartwatch industry for thinking the same of itself. The uptake of the concept has been slow, and public opinion is still largely sceptical.
Fast forward to 2010, when the Sony Ericsson LiveView burst onto the scene, reinvigorating the concept of smartwatches to an unsuspecting world.
The idea continued to gather momentum in the public’s imagination, until, in the summer of 2014 several manufacturers announced their intention to enter the fray. This time they saw a new marketing angle, that of smartwatches as objects of aesthetic desire, and they went to great lengths to align their products with fashion and the fashion industry. They hired fashion designers to help create them, invited fashion royalty to launch parties to help promote them, and collaborated with fashion houses to help sell them.
However, critics can make or break fashion collections, and in June when the New York Times’ Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic Vanessa Friedman uttered “I’m breaking up with the Apple Watch” in an article, it sent a shudder through the industry. It seemed that the final nail had been hammered in by one who represented the very audience the smartwatch industry was trying to lure; smart, savvy, and non-techie.
Her opinion echoed that of most people; smartwatches seemed contrived, there wasn’t an obvious need, and they were definitely not cool.
And that’s probably quite near to the truth. Manufacturers, having reached the point of putting a smartphone on your wrist, were now desperate to convince us that this was something which was both useful and desirable. And that’s what’s proving particularly difficult.
So, where are we now, and where do we go from here?
There have been some very impressive figures for Apple Watch sales recently. According to Strategy Analytics they may have shifted as many as 4 million units in Q2 2015. This compares very favourably to their other product debuts, notably the iPhone which took 3 months to sell just 1 million units and the iPad which sold 3 million in a similar period from launch. As we all now know, both these products went on to change the way we use technology. Which rather begs the question; why shouldn’t the same thing happen with watches?
On the subject of smartwatches and their future there are several camps. Two notable ones are the traditionalists, who feel smartwatches are tacky and that mechanical watches will continue to reign supreme, and the technologists (AKA geeks), who think that the potential advantages smartwatches can bring will render classic timepieces obsolete. Forbes’ Marc Babej offers an interesting discussion on this.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and it might even perhaps come from slightly left of field. The most likely outcome, and there are a number of these offerings already in the offing, are mechanical watches with some form of “smart” element to them. Major Swiss manufacturers Tag, Rolex and Breitling have already announced their intentions, eager to avoid being left for dust in this new world order.
Then there are the range of “uber-accessories” (no reference of course to the transportation service which has now usurped the term) which can bring “smart” benefits to any watch, such as the smart straps being proposed by Mont Blanc.
Personally? I think Nico Gerard’s Classic Pinnacle watch with an Apple Watch piggy-backing on the underside has to take the biscuit….
In a few years when the maelstrom has passed, the dominant formats will emerge, and they will probably be an amalgam of several features currently being touted (perhaps this is what we will see in some years from now…).
But one thing at least is clear. Smartwatches (or at least watches with some degree of “smartness”) are here to stay.