The Apple Smartwatch Cometh?

For perspective on the possible Apple smartwatch, I turned to self-described tech geek (and JCK contributor) Michael Schechter of Honora, who has a unique perspective, being part of both the tech and jewelry worlds.

Schechter is also the only person I know who has bought the most-buzzed-about smartwatch currently on the market, The Pebble. (Though he’s not alone; the company has already sold $10 million of them.) You can read his review here.

Michael had some interesting things to say, and on many points we agree:

First off, Apple hasn’t confirmed anything, so we don’t really know this is a definite go. Many tech watchers think so. But as Schechter repeatedly reminded me, we have heard the same thing about the mythical Apple TV set. And it’s still not here. 

“I am sure a prototype exists somewhere in a room,” Schechter says. “That doesn’t mean it will ever make it to market.”

Second, while Apple has had a remarkable string of successes—not to mention limitless resources and a devoted fan-base—that doesn’t mean that everything it does will hit. Eventually, it will stumble; all companies do. Certainly, Apple alums have proved they are human. 

That said, a smartwatch makes sense. As technology becomes an increasing part of our lives, companies are looking at ways to make it easier to access. So we get the new trend towards “wearable technology.” And it seems more intiuitve to fit that technology in a watch, a device that we have traditionally consulted for information, more than, say, goggles (like Google is experimenting with) or a pair of iPants.

Currently, no one is crying out for wearable technology. For most people, having a computer in your pocket—which is basically what a smartphone is—is easy enough. But as with so many tech products, the uses of a smartwatch may not be apparent until you regularly use it, and its benefits slowly seep into your life.

For instance, Schechter uses his Pebble to track who is calling him. “If my wife texts me, and I don’t need to respond, I don’t have to pull out my phone,” he says. “That saves a lot of time for a phone junkie like me.”

This could present both challenges and opportunites for the rest of the industry. People who collect and wear luxury watches are generally a) wealthy, and b) into technology. Needless to say, wealthy tech buffs also tend to buy things from Apple, which is generally considered a “premium” brand. And the question is: will people who treasure their Patek Philippe want to wear more than one watch?

And if an Apple smartwatch does become popular—and, again, we are making several speculative leaps here—that raises another issue: Who will sell this thing? “This can go the traditional Apple model where they come into a space and take it over,” says Schechter. It certainly appears more likely to end up at traditional tech outlets like Best Buy than at jewelry stores or chains. (Jewelers who find their current brands difficult to deal with may have their hands really full with Apple.) 

Still, a smartwatch explosion could trigger an equally big business in customizable bands and other accessories, which is what happened with smartphones. It’s quite easy to picture jewelers selling those.

Also likely: if an IOS-based Apple smartwatch is introduced, Google could introduce an Android version (which, again, occured with phones). We could then see leading watchmakers introduce their own Android models—for example, the Rolex/Android smartwatch. (Hey, TAG Heuer already has its own smartphone.)

But this may also mean a big change. Smartwatches are likely to have a simple, streamlined design, and look very different from the faces of traditional timepieces. Fashion will be at least partly sublimated to function; currently, it’s the other way around.

“Another thing that could freak the jewelry industry out is: You can get a completely different watch just by downloading an app,” Schechter says. “A couple of times I got bored with my Pebble watch, and I just switched the face up.” 

This could be a good thing. The media is talking about watches! Suffice it to say, that doesn’t happen every day. As an article in the Centurion newsletter notes, encouraging the “cell phone generation” to wear watches can’t hurt.

“Generation X-ers and Y-ers are not wearing watches right now,” notes Schechter. “Sometimes I go to meetings, and I am the only person wearing a watch.”

Still, he does add one cautionary note. “Apple does tend to disrupt things,” he says. “People who make their living off of watches shouldn’t fear this, but they should be thinking about what this might mean. I know that’s something that a lot of people in the music or phone business wish they did.”

JCK News Director