The news that Apple is developing a “smart watch” should certainly shake this industry. If it ever does come to market, it won’t be the first smart watch out there—the idea can arguably be traced back to Dick Tracy. But so far, the segment hasn’t really made a dent, although the Pebble watch recently surprised the tech world by raising millions on Kickstarter.
Yet Apple is Apple—one of the largest and most successful companies in the world—and anything it releases would have tremendous implications.
In a post for ablogtowatch.com—which I recommend anyone interested in this read—author Ariel Adams argues that the square iPod Nano was “essentially a watch … the first thing many people wanted to do was strap it to their wrist.” He also argues:
Futurists tend to agree that as connected devices become more and more part of our daily routine, they will be less put in our pocket and more worn on our bodies … It is then logical that the phone will turn into an even more convenient wearable device. Google is also convinced of this, which is why they started the Google Glass project – putting a computer into glasses.
Certainly a watch-computer is easier to grasp and may even make more sense than a glasses-computer. In another blog post—which I also recommend you all read—former Apple designer Bruce Tognazzini comes up with a pretty impressive list of things that an “iWatch” could do even better than a phone—particularly if it integrates voice control technology (a.k.a. Siri)—including acting as a TV remote control, giving directions, sending text messages, setting the room temperature, and many more.
This would also mark an interesting evolution of the watch. For a long time, of course, watches were used to tell time. But with the ubiquity of smartphones—and before that cell phones—watches became marketed more as a fashion statement and status symbol. As JCK wrote in 2007:
“None of us who are serious about the watch business say we sell time,” says [Les Perry, executive vice president of Seiko Corp. of America.] “We sell image, style, and functions other than time-telling.”
Francie Abraham of Bulova says unequivocally, “Watches have outlasted their original role as timekeepers. Look at demand for high-end mechanical watches. That’s impossible to explain if timekeeping was the reason, because they have less accuracy than quartz watches.
The rise of smart watches—if that is what we are seeing there—could make the watch relevant to everyday life in a way that is hasn’t been in a long time. The question is, will Apple dominate the market, as it has in other sectors, leading other brands to play catch-up? And if the watch does turn into a mini-computer, will design, fashion, and glitzy add-ons—the hallmarks of our industry—become less important? And could this spread to other jewelry items? May we soon see smart necklaces? (That’s a joke. Though maybe not …)
At least one blogger for Mashable argues that the watch has stood for fashion for so long now, that even Apple can’t change that. I don’t know. A snazzy watch can look cool on your wrist. But it will be hard to top something that not only looks cool, but can change the TV and set the temperature.