Just as the industry was getting its head around the concept of a smartwatch, now we hear news of a smart ring.
We have all seen gadget fads come and go. But these announcements seem to be popping up with increased regularity. So the question is: Will anyone use this stuff—at least enough to make a difference in our business?
First, let’s review why these items are starting to appear. The hot trend in the gizmo world is “wearable tech.” We all know people who seem attached to their devices. So why not, some figure, make devices that attach themselves to people? And so we have items like the celebrated Google Glass. But to me, a tech-y watch always seemed to make the most sense, since a watch is an item that we have traditionally consulted for information (i.e., the time).
When I talked to Michael Schechter of Richline—the only person I know who owns a smartwatch—he said that, when wearing his Pebble, “if my wife texts me, and I don’t need to respond, I don’t have to pull out my phone. That saves a lot of time for a phone junkie like me.”
Another happy Pebble wearer said much the same thing, adding the device made him “less stressed”:
I stopped feeling compelled to have my phone within eyesight. This sounds minor, but it’s actually quite potent. After a couple of days, I began to simply leave my phone in my pack or my pocket, which ended up providing a new level of calm. Why? The phone is now more or less a reminder of all that you have to do—put another way, it owns you. Keeping the physical symbol out of my sight enabled me to focus more on the task at hand, and less on everything else.
He also found it “killer for meetings”:
In one particular group meeting, I was the only person of six in the room who did not have to physically break away from the conversation, pull out a phone, and look at a notification. The fact of the matter is that a casual glance at one’s wrist is far less distracting than the act of ogling a smartphone.
So these items could have some functions for phone addicts (and I, sadly, count myself among that group). But what’s striking is how they mostly act as an adjunct to another device, as a “second screen” to a cell phone. For these items to truly to take off, they will likely need to stand on their own. A smartwatch may not able to do everything a smartphone can do, just as smartphone can’t do everything a computer does. But it should be able to do enough that you can feel you have the basics covered (email, phone calls, texting, etc.), so you can leave your phone at home. Right now, that’s not the case. As a writer on geek.com put it: “The current iteration of [smartwatches] boiled down to something that was too expensive to essentially act as nothing more than a notification screen for the other device sitting very close by in your pocket.” So they are not useless, but not that useful, either.
However, let’s say these products do prove themselves indispensable, and they become widely adopted. Where does that leave our industry? Well, anything people wear becomes not just about utility, but about fashion. There is no piece of clothing or jewelry—and that includes items people don’t typically show the outside world, like underwear—that people haven’t added some kind of fashion-y twist to. And so it will likely be with these items, if they ever do become a force in the market.
And that is where the jewelry business comes in. Our industry specializes in design, fashion, and craftsmanship. Apple may be able to make a perfectly attractive watch, but in this age of individuality and customization, everyone isn’t going to want to wear the same thing. Going to a party and seeing everyone donning the same timepiece would be like going to party where everyone sports the same shirt. Kind of boring and just not done.
So if wearable tech does become the future, our business will still have a role to play. The tech industry can make things that are useful and attractive. But it will take our industry to make them beautiful.