Smartwatches, Smartwatches, Smartwatches! – now that’s over, back to reality

H+K TechLabs' Zoe Hawthorne discusses her views on the current smartwatch phenomenon and her delight as veteran watchmaker Swatch weighs in with its own product

Courtesy of CultofAndroid and Hanna-Barbera

Image courtesy of CultofAndroid and Hanna-Barbera

Smartwatches! (collective oooo! aaaah!) If the last fortnight had been penned by Keats it would have been called “Ode to the smartwatch”. Before we go much further I should say, I’m not a Keats fan. Nor am I a smartwatch fan.

It started at the beginning of March with Mobile World Congress. Every technology vendor worth its salt was pushing its version of the must-have gadget for 2015, whether it was Alcatel One-Touch, Huawei, HTC, Acer or Pebble. Even traditional watch makers like Garmin were getting in on the action. The fanfare from Spain then culminated in a cacophony of Apple-themed gadget porn with the launch of the Apple Watch resulting in a week of news, reviews (and a few boos) about the device.

As previously stated, I am not a smartwatch fan. I understand that there is quite a lot of support for them amongst a portion of the population. In my personal opinion the shortcomings of smartwatches vastly outweigh their “trendiness”, and I feel this is reflected in the fact that I only know of one person who has a smartwatch.

The majority are not pretty; they are clunky and look like you are wearing a tiny 1980s Compaq on your wrist (it seems aesthetics were removed from the design process); the battery life is appalling (I have enough devices to charge thanks); and the price for what you get is atrocious (I am not spending a few hundred quid on something my phone does better anyway).

With this in mind what a relief it was when I opened the Wall Street Journal last Friday and there was Nick Hayek, Chief Executive of Swatch speaking a bit of common sense.

You may recall that not so long ago Mr. Hayek dismissed smartwatches pretty much for all the reasons cited above, as well as the slight mishap over the Paparazzi model launched in conjunction with Microsoft around ten years ago. It seems the company has had a change of heart and reports state that Swatch will be bringing its own smartwatch to market in as little as three months’ time.

At first I felt despair: “how could Swatch, the watchmaker of my childhood be jumping on the bandwagon. Don’t they understand the shortcomings of the smartwatch? Why god why?” Then on closer inspection it seems that the team at Swatch has looked at what consumers want from a smartwatch, what the problems are in existing models and come up with a solution.

Firstly, they have recognised that consumers usually wear watches not only to tell the time, but as a piece of jewellery. Jewellery needs to be nice to look at, so aesthetic design is back on the table. Chalk up one point for Swatch!

Secondly, they know that creating a smartwatch that just does exactly the same as your phone is unnecessary. Generally speaking, the desired functions for a smartwatch include contactless payment functionality, push notifications (your phone is ringing!) pedometer, heart rate and other fitness related statistics, and of course the time. Well this is what Swatch states it will include in its line of smartwatches.

Thirdly, the Swatch smartwatch won’t require charging as frequently as its rivals due to the way it interfaces with a smartphone. The company has gotten round this by using NFC technology to link with a phone rather having the watch as a completely separate device, it appears. My electricity bill thanks you Mr. Hayek.

However, in terms of price, there is still no clue as to what the Swatch smartwatch will retail at, which could be the deal breaker. Hopefully Swatch will maintain its history of providing a range of attractive watches that cater to all areas of the market, but only time will tell on this point.

All in all, it appears that Swatch, the epitome of watch brands, has entered the smartwatch furore with a little more common sense than most. Reminding people that at the end of the day, first and foremost, it’s a watch. We await the launch with baited breath…

Zoe Hawthorne

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search