Are Swiss Watchmakers About to Sink? Smartwatches are Coming!
Fresh and interesting article posted in the fashion section of the New York Times about how stylish tech bracelet, iWatch (Apple), and smartwatches will (very soon?) sink Switzerland and Swiss watchmakers.
"It’s time we stopped calling the current crop of gadgets “wearable tech.” Instead, I propose we start giving them a more appropriate name: “ugly tech.” Because let’s be realistic, most wearables today are really, really ugly.
Take the Pebble, a smart watch with a black-and-white screen, which first had its debut on Kickstarter in 2012. While geeks love the watch for its ability to show text messages and emails, the device itself looks like a small Kindle strapped to your wrist. Smartwatches made by LG, Samsung and Sony aren’t much better, with cheesy faux leather or rubber straps, and thick masculine watch faces that look as if they’re supposed to be paired with a pocket protector.
The Neptune Pine watch is so large, with its 2.4-inch screen, that at first glance it appears to be a joke product meant to poke fun at other gadgets. (Alas, it’s very real.)But this genre of ugly could be on the precipice of change. On Tuesday, Apple, the venerable leader of cool, is expected to unveil a wearable iWatch that will, given the company’s track record, likely be the opposite of ugly.
While we don’t have much of an idea what the coveted iWatch will look like, I was able to glean one small detail from people at Apple who work on the company’s wearables.According to a designer who works at Apple, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, in bragging about how cool he thought the iWatch was shaping up to be, gleefully said Switzerland is in trouble — though he chose a much bolder term for “trouble” to express how he thought the watchmaking nation might be in a tough predicament when Apple’s watch comes out.
If anyone can change the perception of wearables and ugliness, it’s definitely Apple. The company’s iPod turned the once-geeky MP3 player into a fashion accessory, the iPhone made smartphones into a status symbol, and the iPad took tablet computers, once the nerdiest gadget of all, and made them coveted and sexy accessories.So if it’s clear that Apple is going to change the game, what’s taken so long?Isabel Pedersen, the author of “Ready to Wear: A Rhetoric of Wearable Computers and Reality-Shifting Media,” said that until now, companies have been treating the design of wearable computers as, well, the design of computers. In contrast, fashion designers think about style, age, taste and a number of other criteria when they make clothing and jewelry for consumers.
“Today’s wearables are ugly and clunky because tech is a very male-centric industry, and as a result wearables are too ugly for most people,” Dr. Pedersen said. “A wearable can’t really hope to become part of everyday culture until these companies consider more than just the technology.”
For most wearable makers, it would be in their best interest to stop worrying about the gizmos inside, and start worrying about the look and feel of their products. Research firms predict that companies that crack the tech-meets-fashion code could sell hundreds of millions of accessories in the coming years.
“It’s been hard for existing tech companies to get this new competency of fashion, and it’s going to be hard for existing fashion companies to get the competency of tech,” said Katherine Hague, vice president of the Blueprint, an online store for connected devices. “People are finally starting to realize that it has to be fashionable for it to cross that chasm into a non-tech market.”
Last year Credit Suisse issued a report that estimated the wearable industry could become a $30 billion to $50 billion industry over the next three to five years. But yet another report, by Beecham Research, warned that in order for wearable tech to become sought-after by consumers, tech firms need to figure out the fashion side of the equation.“Unless there is a holistic morphing of technology and aesthetics, we will not harness the full potential of wearable tech innovation,” Claire Duke-Woolley, Beecham’s fashion technology analyst, said in the report.
Doing just that are a slew of smaller, fashion-focused tech companies, and a handful of partnerships between tech companies and big-name fashion brands.Earlier this year Fitbit announced a partnership with the designer Tory Burch to make fitness trackers stuffed inside a hinged bracelet and pendant necklace. CuteCircuit is going beyond accessories and making “Interactive Haute Couture” with textiles that can change color. Google Glass has partnered with DVF and Luxottica to make the geeky specs stylish. Last week, Rebecca Minkoff and Case-Mate announced a new line of techie jewelry, including a gold bracelet that pairs with a smartphone.
And on Wednesday, Intel, in partnership with Barneys New York and Opening Ceremony, unveiled a new wearable bracelet that looks nothing like a gadget at all, yet has all the geeky innards that the tech crowd will salivate over.
The bracelet, called MICA (for My Intelligent Communication Accessory), comes in two styles: black snakeskin and pearls, and white snakeskin and obsidian. Both have a curved sapphire screen and built-in wireless radios. And both look nothing like a wearable computer.
The partnership between Intel and Opening Ceremony could be a signal of how to move from ugly wearables to products that consumers, especially women, Intel said, will actually be excited to buy.
“We tech companies inherently think of things more for functionality — we are so used to building things that exist on their own,” said Ayse Ildeniz, vice president of Intel’s New Devices Group, the team behind the MICA bracelet. “Putting something on a person’s body is a very different paradigm.” She added, “We need to create accessories that people are proud to put on their body.”I know of one accessory that people will likely be proud to wear. That is, everyone but Swiss watchmakers.