Will the smart watches conquer the very valuable places on our wrists? Is the smart watch endangering the classical mechanical watch? This is a call for an open discussion

Sony SmartWatch

Samsung just presented its Galaxy Gear, Sony has its SmartWatch, Pebble sells an E-Paper Watch and Apple will probably announce its iWatch next week.

Everybody asks me these days what I personally think of those smart watches. Even a well-known European newspaper wanted to hear my opinion.

Well, I am not sure if these watches will make to become a mass phenomenon on our wrists. Already 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 look 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 design of the successful smartphones is almost the same; the importance lays on the size of the screen, the thickness and weight.

So why should I wear something ugly on my wrist with a miniature screen?

What advantage gives me this object instead of 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?

Is my heartbeat of any interest, or my actual excitement level?

Should my smart watch watch me when I see or touch something, so I can directly get the next offer?

Why should I want to make phone calls with such a tiny object?

Will I press it against my ear and shout to my wrist?

Guys, please tell me what is the use of such a watch?

And, please tell me why should I accept a poor battery life of less than one day? When I travel I will then have to take another charger with me. No way!

Future developments should concentrate on the smartphone and not be outsourced to a smart watch.

But, will I in the future probably need to buy both?

Will perhaps the iPhone 6 only work together with the iWatch 2.3?

Will this be a lucrative business model for Apple & Co.?

I only see a very limited group of buyers for such electronic gimmicks. I know Pebble sold some 300.000 E-Paper Watches up to date, Sony I don´t know how many, Google and Samsung will also sell some hundred thousands and in case Apple will come on the market with such a device another hundred of thousand of iWatches will be sold.

But I think this is it! In a first wave some hundreds of thousands of smart watches will be sold, but I doubt that there will be a second wave possible.

Everyone wearing one will get fed up very soon. There is no gain coming from such an object. And if the design is as ugly as the design of Samsung or Sony or Pebble, I don´t see any future at all.

 

Sony SmartWatch
Sony SmartWatch
Pebble E-Paper Watch
Pebble E-Paper Watch
Samsung Galaxy Gear
Samsung Galaxy Gear

Maybe Apple will present something more attractive, but I honestly doubt this will happen.

The only one that could produce a real sexy smart watch is Swatch. Hundreds of millions of produced and successfully sold watches do make Swatch the preferred partner for such a development.

If I had been Apple I would have cooperated with Swatch. Imagine, if the good and sexy design and the expertise of Swatch would melt with the iOS-world what a clever, funny and sexy device could have come alive.

Swatch would have insisted and given the device also a sense of humor, something one would just like and something that would have probably motivated us to buy and wear such an object.

But I have heard from the people of Swatch that they don´t believe in smart watches in the way as they are conceived today. “Just not sexy enough”, someone told me.

I fully agree! The smart watches are just not sexy enough, they are just useless in the end.

For a limited group of buyers yes, but for a greater public I doubt a possible success.

This is the same case as with our beloved mechanical watches: For us, a limited group of buyers, for sure the non-plus-ultra and everything we always dreamed about, but for a greater public just a waste of money for such an anachronistic, old-fashioned object on the wrist. The mass will continue to wear just anything on their wrists. Things we either don´t like anyway…

I know that some of my colleagues at watchtime.com are working on an overview of all actual smart watches. As soon everything is ready we will have it online here at watch-insider.com and at watchtime.com.

Now at the end here let me be a little cruel and provocative: I will at this point even stop to call these watches smart watch, since they are absolutely not what I understand a nice wristwatch should be. So let me call them nice temporary gimmicks that will occupy for a very limited period of time the very precious space on the wrists of future potential watch buyers.

For me these watches up to date are an epic failure

You don’t agree? You agree? You think I am totally dumb? You think I am a visionary?

Good! Please let me know your personal opinion!

 

 

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29 Comments

  • I think this is a very short-sighted and narrow-minded article.

    The smartwatch anno 2014 is at the same level as the first quartz watches were at the beginning of the 1970’s. And look what they did to our so beloved (Swiss) mechanical watch industry… That’s why I hope (and think) the (Swiss) watchmakers are more open to these developments than you, and as they were with the quartz watches, or a second crisis may be on their hands.

    A lot of the problems with the current day smartwatches are very similar to the problems with the first quartz watches. And the technology is (as then) only at the first stage. For every problem there will be an answer, as long as the tech giants have enough confidence and money. And they have loads of both.

    I have researched almost all the serious smartwatches that are there. Handled them, tested them (did you?). Some are not good (Samsung), others are promising (Sony) and some are even very good (Pebble). And if you look at the new Pebble Steel (battery life: one week – more then your phone), they even start to look like ‘real’ watches…

    And the use? With new apps being launched daily, they are getting more useful every day. The only thing they are not useful for is a phone call. But nobody said that that is what they are there for.

    To recap, I think that the smartwatch could be (mind you: could be) the future. And I hope that the industry is more open-minded than you. The smartwatch will not be a threat to the ‘haute horlogerie’, don’t you worry, but the lower and middle class watchmakers can better be vigilant.

  • Payment function would be fine, but there was a smart technology that astonishingly did not spread more: the Swatch with debit payment function of the company Skidata that allowed for taking a skilift without looking for ones tickets. Would have been perfect for all public transport, cinemas, newspapers etc. Maybe Mr. Linz knows more ?

  • I don’t know.

    A smart watch will never be a fashion statement in their current guise, which is a big party of wearing a watch, making a fashion statement.

    This whole smart watch craze reminds me of calculator watches. Just how many of thsoe do you see today?

    As Apple learned with the iPod Shuffle Gen 3, there is a limit to how small you can make something and still have it be usable for humans. I know that my large fingers don’t work that well on small smart phone screen keyboards so I just have to wonder how functional these will be without th euse of a stylus. If they aren’t usable by a large portion of the population, they will never catch on.

    But that is just my opinion.

    Steve\

  • Generally, I agree with all the previous posts. A mechanical watch is something special and not just bought for its function.

    However, I think we should keep in mind that the current watches presented by Samsung et al. today are not the technical limit of tomorrow. For years already we hear rumours about paying our bills in shops, restaurants, gas stations etc. with our smart phones. Now, imagine that such a watch would one day contain such a function. Maybe, in the future, the only way to pay our shopping goods is with such a watch? Of course, many other important functions could be stored in a smart watch. As a consequence, everyone would be forced to have one.

    I know, does not sound like a pleasant future. But I don’t think that it is completely impossible…

  • Many young people dont have watches because they retrieve all info including time from their phone, so they might not be eager to put a device on their wrist.

    Those who wear a watch might be tempted if one could write/send/read emails without carrying a bulky smartphone.
    But is there a need for anything inbetween ???

    Reminds me of the Casio/Timex watches with calculator, it was nearly impossible to enter data correctly on their micro keyboard and hence they disappeared quickly.

  • But, to answer the question: Are smartwatches going to cannibalize sales of mid- and high-end mechanical timepieces?

    Nope. It’s a different market.

    Nobody who spends more than $500 on a watch is doing it purely for function. Heck, you can go online and, for a tenth of that price, buy a mechanical watch that never needs a landfill-poisoning battery (how’s that for attracting the eco-friendly crowd?).

    The cheap people will either never buy a smartwatch or they’ll steal one. The luxury buyers won’t bother with one—the super-elite who don’t even carry their own phone won’t even have anything with which to link a smartwatch.

    There’s going to be several million of these little buggers getting sold, there’s no doubt about that. They’re going to hit the mid-low fashion and quartz market — which will rebound as soon as the fickle mid-low fashion watch buyers move on to the next design trend and buy regular watches again.

    A smartwach—as it stands now—is too complex, too ugly, and too stylistically limited to properly serve the fashion and status crowd.

  • I fully agree with this article. I will even go further and say that I don’t even like the smart phones, let alone a smart watch. I like screens to be BIG, hence that’s why I don’t even like the smart phone . So if I feel that the screen is too small on a smart phone then you can imagine what my thoughts are concerning a smart watch.

  • Nobody’s made the right smartwatch yet.

    Here’s what they need:
    – Durable
    – Low profile
    – Long battery life
    – Easy, fast interface
    – Stays within the limits imposed by its own size

    Durable enough to withstand knocks against door frames and getting washed in the shower; slim enough to fit under a shirt cuff; lasts for a few days between recharges (kinetic or solar as a bonus?); interface that responds instantly to the touch and makes its features easy to find; doesn’t try to be a movie player, PDF viewer, or spreadsheet editor.

    I’ve got a previous-generation iPod nano. Great little iPod, terrible watch — it’s not waterproof at all (something I didn’t realize until I was washing my hands and became terrified of soaking it) and it requires a button press just to view the time. I also have a Garmin watch with GPS and heart rate. It shows the time and does a great job as a workout tracker, but it should be recharged every couple days, has no facility for email notifications, uses a proprietary strap, and buries commonly-changed system settings four or five menus deep.

    I’ve seen Citizen’s and Casio’s bluetooth-equipped smartwatches. They’re still good as watches, but their smart functionality is self-limited due to their design. Because they are watches first, they can’t clean up their faces to display different data, so the Casio has a tiny notification window and Citizen’s Proximity has a cluttered face with tiny markings.

    The crazy thing about all this speculation is that people are still wondering what Apple can do. Apple’s top dogs have spent time with Swatch to find out how they approach watch design, and Tim Cook has often been seen wearing his Nike FuelBand. There’s no doubt that Jony Ive and his crew have some watch prototypes dinking around inside Apple’s labs, but what we outsiders can’t guess is how they will decide to execute a smartwatch—if they decide to make one at all. They may simply do as they have done in the past and learn from everyone else’s mistakes.

  • We can never under estimate what technology is capable of, and should they be able to pack multiple benefits into these wristwatches, it could be possible that smart watches will start eating into the sales of tradition timepieces. Most specially on the wrist of the younger generation.

  • I am a bit late to the game here but wanted to say from what I have read the battery life and the need for the new Galaxy Note to get the full functionality from the watch will be the “big” issue.

    Really this is just another step toward wearable computers that will be ubiquitous in the near future. Even then it will not matter because many will opt for a mechanical watch because… (Add your own reasons here” 🙂

    Cheers

  • Thank you very much for all these comments! What a pleasure for me to read them… Don’t stop writing at this point. If you have something more to tell us, just do it 🙂

    Alexander

  • The current rash of smart watches are just a stepping stone. Soon the mechanics of a smart phone will be able to be incorporated into the band on your wrist. Awkward to use? Difficult to see? Holographic screens (yes more than one) beamed in front of your face are just around the corner. You will be able to dial numbers either by looking at the holographic numbers in front of you, speaking the number or eventually – no I will not even go there. All you King Canutes should continue to heap the praise and love upon our mechanical timepieces – I believe that all the modern attributes of these were invented within 25 years in the 119th century, but we cannot stop progress, and what we see today is just the first tiny step of a very long staircase.

  • I think these are nothing but gimmicks, maybe some youngsters will use these for sometime. But soon they will get bored and chuck these things out.
    These gimmicks can neither replace our Rolexes nor our Omegas!

  • Thanx Alex,
    You always updated. I totally agree with my friends here. I wore a casio long time ago just to try it. To be honest, no feeling of valuing time at all. Mechanical watches sometimes make you look at the beauty and innovative parts of it.

  • I totally agree. These are gimmick instruments and may appeal to younger buyers who are not into watches at this time. It’s the difference between a computer chip ( read quartz and smart watches) and a mechanical marvel. The beauty and detail of a mechanical watch can not be overestimated. Smart watches will find a niche but will not be a serious challenge.

  • I totally agree- many years ago I bought one from Timex it was useful as it was before smartphones. when windows 95 went away it no longer worked. I also have a cell phone watch I never use because my smart phone is easier to use. I like real watches!

  • The only good thing that may come out of this could be that wearing a watch will come back into vogue with youth. Maybe, just maybe, this will work to restore faith in ‘proper’ wristwatches?

    • I use watches since my childhood and nothing will replace my automatic watches. I entered in the watch repair business in 1980. many changes happened in the industry. there is market for everything, some people say not to need a watch because cellphone but there are plenty of people that still like traditional watches.

  • I doubt the smartwatch will replace the smartphone, precisely because it’s hard to hold the watch to your ear to year it. I doubt it will replace the wristwatch – primarily because it is in actual fact not a watch, but a wrist computer. It’s just not convenient enough to replace the smart phone,which is seriously competing with the laptop computer – due to size. It’s too small. Imagine trying to type with one hand on your wrist?

    Try having a phone call with your wrist to your ear. It’s awkward and I bet you can’t do it for more than 30 seconds…

    I don’t think it will replace either item – smartphone or wrist watch. It’s too small to enter data into and it’s not really a watch. It won’t replace the smartphone, which is about the smallest you can get and have it function still. Even smartphones are going for bigger screens – look at the Samusung Galaxy…it’s almost a tablet.

    The smartwatch is too small and too awkward for its job.

  • Alex I agree with you. I do not see the need for it. But having said that look around and all the youngsters do not wear watches anymore. For them the handphone tells them their time. That could be alarming signs for the classical watches – I don’t know! Why would I have all this functions on my wrist when I can have it on my Black Berry or I-phone I don’t get it.

  • Alexander,

    as always, much food for thought.

    there is too much history of similar gadgets – and their lifespan as popular ‘gotta have it’ items has proven time after time (ha ha, yes pun intended) to be just a brief flash of attention.

    I agree with Eduardo. quartz-movement timepieces survived in the marketplace long enough to create a foundation for their future. but all the gimmicks and one-trick ponies springing from inventive minds get a bit of attention, and then (people’s attention span being what it is) all of them end up as landfill.

    I daresay that even the evolution of personal computing devices has yet to undergo a watershed that will sweep away much of the hyper-tech that people are so focused on today. tablets, pads, pods, smart-yadda yadda – all of this is just fascination with new, not recognition of genuinely substantial and needed.

    my favorite example. when the music industry went racing into CDs and dumped the production of vinyl music albums, those of us with a discerning ear said ‘you guys are making a slow speed train wreck’. we knew that digital could never reproduce sound the way analogue impulses on vinyl discs could do. and what do we have 40 years later? people spending a fortune on special turntables and cartridges, and paying megabucks for limited edition vinyl albums – why? because even the techno-crazies finally have to admit that digital can’t match the old technology. and then they go turning second hand stores upside down trying to find tube-chassis amplifiers to get the purest kind of sound reproduction that integrated circuit machines can never provide.

    this ain’t gonna happen. I hope the makers haven’t invested too heavily.

  • We went through this with the mobile phone becoming “the new pocket watch” it didn’t! i maintain that as young people grow a little older and earn money they learn the value of quality clothes, shoes etc, a fine wristwatch well made is just as important, not those hideous plastic squares! sorry for the rant but my humble opinion.

  • I agree with you, Alex, along with the previous posts. For the most part, I would assume that people on this site represent the “minority” that love mechanical watches, as I do.

    That being said, I’ve tried to put myself in the position of someone that would be intrigued by this new technology– and I still can’t justify these watches. I can’t see these watches being more than a trend simply because of the lack of ergonomic design. A female television news anchor was presenting the technology and said that the watch was too big for her wrist. This is an important consideration because the success of smartphones has been tied to their very convience. Everyone was carrying a cell phone– then that same cell phone offered more features. But the rationale to move the phone to the wrist doesn’t seem logical. Why would you try to take a slick, widely used technology and create an “unsexy”, “clunky” technology?

    I’m also old enough to remember when calculators were first put on watches (Casio) and the initial interest the public had with them. And though some of those designs have come back to haunt us in strange, post-modernistic fashion statements, they really aren’t relevant to today’s mechanical watch market. All we can do is learn from these past lessons…

  • no way , and when that day comes I’ll give up wearing watches or something alike on my hand.
    it is the same topic as will Segway replace my Harley. never.
    maybe for those who are gadget fans. not for real men

  • I would not get near one of these because to me a watch should be a thing of beauty. I wear a Rolex Day-Date (for 30 years now)because it is attractive and tells me the time. I have several other watches that I could wear … and occasionally do … but none that appeal to me as much as my Rolex. For the vast majority of us we are never out of sight of something that will tell us the time so a watch is more than a time piece, it says something about who we are. I have a desktop, a laptop and an iPhone so why would I want to wear something as unattractive as this on my wrist.

    • unattractive indeed and has a plastic appearance !!!I wonder how it weras a shock at the doorway- it will say error bad command or file name change battery

  • Alexander,

    I really enjoy your columns, and have been following your blog for several months now.

    This whole thing about smart-watches is a good example of something that in the literature has been called the Lindy Effect.

    In a nutshell, the Lindy Effect states that the longer an ideology or technology has been around, the longer we should expect that ideology or technology will survive in the future. The opposite tends to be the case too. Think about “The Three Musketeers” vs. “The Hunger Games”. In 100 years, which of these books do you expect to still be able to find readily available?

    In my opinion the same goes with mechanical/automatic wristwatches vs. smart-watches. While the former have been around for many decades, we have only seen the later for a few months, if anything.

    My prediction is that 10 years from now all these products you mentioned above will most likely be in a landfill, while any of us owning a good classical wristwatch will still be using/wearing it…

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