I wear an old fashioned watch. It tells the time. Well, I say it’s old fashioned but it’s actually very sophisticated. It’s a Citizen watch that uses Eco-Drive technology to fuel a titanium lithium ion battery via an amorphous silicon photocell located being the watch face. It contains a GPS receiver that can sync to a satellite that makes sure the time on my wrist is synced based upon an atomic clock. That’s a lot of technological effort just so I can tell the time.
A Citizen is a mid-range watch. You could buy a cheaper fashion watch such as an Michael Kors or Accurist, or you could empty your bank account for a luxury watch, a Tag Heuer or Zenith. All of these ranges have enjoyed steady growth in the UK but articles such as ‘What will 2017 hold for the UK watch market?’ will soon need rewriting, as I believe the launch of the Apple Watch will disrupt markets and our behaviours.
On the 24th April 2015 the Apple Watch will launch. It will instantly be competitive against fitness bands such as Fitbit and the Nike+ FuelBand. Other smart watches, such as the popular Pebble, may need to rethink their market positioning. Then we have all the existing watch brands that will need to contend with the Apple Watch; market positioned by its price of £299 to £13,500 (depending on metals and straps).
The big question: could a smart watch replace the Citizen on my wrist?
This is a difficult question to answer, but my gut reaction is ‘yes’. Especially if we consider that smart watches could be the driving force behind the wearable technology market which YouGov expects to expand over the course of this year. The market has currently enjoyed growth from sport related technology. In fact, this was probably why when I joined a debate at the House of Commons about wearable technology last year, that many of the ethical concerns about such devices came from a health point of view.
Smart watches are different. They do the whole health ‘thing’, but other functions from Apple include:
- using the Watch as a means to open a compatible hotel room lock as an alternative to a key card
- checking the name of a song via the app Shazam
- opening an internet-connected garage door remotely
The functionality of the Apple Watch will increase over time as apps created for iOS gain Apple Watch compatibility. These will probably become secondary features, most likely notifications in the beginning. Smart watches are part of the ever-growing Internet of Things that change the way we interact with technology (or software).
Over time I believe the functionality of the Apple Watch (and other smart watches) will begin seriously eating into the sales of existing watch brands. The brands at most risk are the low to mid-level priced; fashion watches and trusty Citizens. Already fashion watch brand goliath, Fossil, have announced that it will begin producing smart watches based on Android Wear. The storm is coming, as wearing a sophisticated watch now means more than telling the time. We want our accessories to be interconnected, to act as extensions of ourselves, interacting with internet-based services, especially social media.
However, I don’t think luxury watch brands will be affected by smart watches, even though Apple’s highest price point is £13,500 (pure madness). Luxury watches are bought for social status by enthusiasts who care that the Zenith chronograph was created in 1969, boasting “exceptional 1/10th of a second precision”. Such brands are in a completely different league, so I’ll be excited to see how the Apple Watch manages to position its high-level offering.
Whilst there is high interest in smart watches by consumers and by those who work in digital marketing, it will be interesting to see if this gets translated into sales. If anyone can do it, Apple can. Especially as their newly launched iOS software features a tantalising Apple Watch app.
Will I get an Apple Watch? Yes, but not this first generation. The device needs better app expandability and testing for intensive day-to-day use. The device’s biggest let down is its battery life of just 18 hours. My Citizen’s battery will last for 7 years before dying. Without a doubt the biggest enemy to the smart watch industry is battery technology. Until that improves, it’s difficult to see how they can be competitive against existing watches or existing health tech solutions – at least this year.