In this article from my blog, Watch-Insider.com, I look at the recent phenomenon of “smartwatches” released by technology companies and weigh in on whether these devices are destined to supplant the mechanical watch and conquer that valuable piece of real estate that is the wrists of watch wearers.
Samsung just presented its Galaxy Gear, Sony has its SmartWatch, Pebble sells an E-Paper Watch and Apple will probably announce its iWatch very soon.
Recently, I have been asked many times what I personally think of those “smartwatches.” Even a well-known European newspaper wanted to hear my opinion.
In short, I am not sure if these watches are likely to become a mass phenomenon on our wrists. After all, years ago, Seiko presented a “television-watch” for the wrist that could receive dozens of programs, but the watch flopped. Why? The design was awful and who wanted to watch TV on his wrist?
Today, I see the same issues. Smartphones have a bright and big screen, they are easily to manipulate and the readability is good. The designs of most successful smartphones are very similar; the differences are in the size of the screen, the thickness and the weight.
So why should I wear something ugly on my wrist because it has a miniature screen? What advantage does this device have over my mechanical wristwatch? What information is so important that I cannot take out my smartphone and check it there? What information should my smart watch give to my smartphone?
Do I really need to constantly check my heart rate or blood pressure? Am I comfortable with my watch keeping track of my movements and purchases?
Why would I want to make phone calls with such a small interface? Will I press it against my ear and then shout into my wrist?
And how practical is a wrist-worn device with a battery life of less than one day? Will I have to take yet another charger with me when I travel?
Will I need to buy both watch and phone in the future? And what about compatibility? Will the iPhone 6, for example, only work together with the iWatch 2.3? Will this be a lucrative business model for Apple & Co.?
I foresee only a very limited group of buyers for such electronic gimmicks. I know Pebble sold some 300,000 E-Paper Watches to date; not sure about Sony, but Google and Samsung will probably sell a few hundred thousand of their models, and I expect Apple to sell another few hundred thousand of their device when it comes on the market. But I think that will be it — a strong first wave, but no second wave.
Everyone wearing one will sour on it very quickly. And if the design is as unattractive as those of the Samsung, Sony or Pebble, I don’t see any future at all.
Perhaps Apple will present something more attractive, but I have my doubts.
In my opinion, the only company suited to produce a truly sexy smart watch is not a tech firm but an actual watch company: Swatch. With hundreds of millions of watches produced and sold each year, it would make the ideal partner for such a project.
If I had been Apple, I would have cooperated with Swatch. Imagine the watch-design expertise of Swatch melding with the iOS world — it could’ve brought a clever, fun device to life. Alas, people at Swatch have told me that they don’t believe in smart watches, at least not as they are conceived today. “Just not sexy enough,” someone told me, and I have to agree.
They are similar to our beloved mechanical watches in one way — specifically their appeal to a small, limited group rather than the general public. For us, the luxury mechanical watch is the ne plus ultra, the culmination of a dream. Yet much of the greater public regards it as a waste of money, an anachronistic, old-fashioned object on the wrist.
To sum up, let me be a little provocative: I will at this point stop referring to these devices as watches, as they are absolutely not what I believe a nice wristwatch should be. So let me call them nice, temporary gimmicks that will occupy, for a very limited period of time, the precious space on the wrists of some future potential watch buyers.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know. In the meantime, you can click here for WatchTime.com’s feature story on the new smart watches, and here to watch WatchTime editor-in-chief Joe Thompson’s interview on CNBC in which he discusses the impact of the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch.