Watch Insider’s Take: Will the New Smartwatches Conquer Our Wrists?

Sony SmartWatchesIn this article from my blog,, 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?


Samsung Galaxy Gear

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.?

Pebble smart watch
Pebble E-Paper Watch

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.

Sony SmartWatch
Sony SmartWatch

Agree? Disagree? Let us know. In the meantime, you can click here for’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.

No Responses to “Watch Insider’s Take: Will the New Smartwatches Conquer Our Wrists?”

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  1. Jan Brassem

    In order to look a little deeper into the future of the Smart Watch and the impending iWatch, why not take a look at the numbers.

    a. 15 tech companies now make watches to tackle the WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY market.

    b. Samsung owns 34% of the market and has sold 800,000. The market is growing exponentially.

    c. In a study by the JCOC, 44% of the people interviewed said they may buy one.

    d. Have you ever seen one or the FITBIT model?

    e. Don’t forget what happened when Seiko launched their game-changing Quartz-driven watch in the early ’60’s. No one gave them any credit either.

    f. Apple hired Jony Ive and 100 watch designers last year.

    g. Apple plans to sell 50 million iWatch units when they launch it later this year and 250 million next year.

    h. I could go on and on…..

    I just gave a speech on this very topic at the JCK Jewelry annd Watch Show yesterday. All I can say is…..beware.

    Let me know if you need more persuastion….

    Jan Brassem

  2. Not every new technology kills the older one. Our mechanical watches are cases in point. The writer has said many good points, as have some other forum members.

    My reason for not wanting a Pebble or other smart watch is – it will be out of fashion within 3 months. My Rolex has been in fashion since the 50’s, will find itself on the wrist of my son, and possibly grandson. During that time, I think these smart watches would definitely find itself in some landfill.

    A timepiece tells more than the time. It tells people about you; it tells a history.

    • Frank Gilbert

      Well, over a year later and the Pebble is far from “out of fashion”.

  3. Uli Kaiser

    Hi Alexander:

    I admire your work at Watch Insider and just read your ‘take on smartphones’. I think that you underestimate the relevance of these devices, which are at their infancy right now. Seriously.

    It’s not about constant heart rate monitoring or shouting in your watch.

    Just thick about tablets – they failed miserably initially (like Sony’s TW watch) and now IPad is worth more than all watch companies combined. I also remember Microsofts Steve Ballmer laughing off the IPhone. Today the Iphone business unit is worth more than Microsoft.

    With kind regards from Bangkok,

    Uli Kaiser

  4. Smartwatches will not replace mechanical watches, different functions two different groups of people.

  5. Debashish

    These are gimmicks and we all know that gimmicks do not last.

    These so-called smart-watches can never replace the Rolexes or the Omegas or the Chopards or the Breguets!

  6. Stewart Novinger

    How is the HD3 Slyde doing. Isn’t that a “smart” watch made by a watch company? I have no idea how much the Slyde costs, but I am sure it is more than the Samsung, Apple phones, etc. There is no way in my opinion these watches made by phone or computer companies will supplant mechanical watches. We have not needed mechanical watches for a long time. Those of us who spend big money on mechanical perpetual calendars, GMT’s, world timers and the like try to tell ourselves that these watches have practical use, but we could buy a Casio that does anything a mechanical watch does with the tourbillon or minute repeater as the exception. Mechanical watches are pieces of art, or expensive toys like high dollar cars. There will always be a number of people who appreciate the handmade, hand finished movements whether they come in stainless, gold, platinum, or ceramic cases. Is Apple going to make an i-watch in ceramic? Probably not. People were worried that we would stop wearing watches because we could tell time with our cell phones, and that didn’t stop the big sales of mechanical watches. Bring on the smart phones, I will keep my Glashutte Original or JLC, even if they don’t keep time as well. What’s a few seconds a month matter anyway.

  7. Agreed. I see no advantage to moving my phone to my watch. The very attempt shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the two devices and why we use them.

  8. Look me up on LinkedIn. Watches are my specialty for over 20 years as Private Consultant to the world . You and are in total agreement. Of all the major watch manufacturers, the family running Swatch would have been PERFECT to work with and maybe someone will be smart enough to partner there-otherwise you have hit the nail on the head!

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