Earlier this year, my father died.
When he died, I inherited his watches, which are pretty nice. One is a Rolex, one is from Tag Heuer. These aren’t $US20,000 watches — the guy was a school teacher — but they’re still pretty expensive.
At the time, I didn’t wear a watch. But, since it was an heirloom, I decided to start wearing the watches.
Wearing a nice watch has a few effects.
1. It’s sort of weird. I feel showy. I’m not a sharp dresser, so wearing expensive jewellery was a bit out of place next to my Uniqlo jeans and flannel shirts. I wanted to be able to explain to anyone that might have seen my wrist why I had a nice watch.
2. It’s not that helpful for telling time. If I am running to catch a train and I need to know how much time I have to make it, I don’t push back my sleeve, I take out my phone which has the exact time. A watch has a rough estimate of the time. It’s usually off by a minute or two.
Since I started wearing a nice watch, Apple announced the release of the Apple Watch for early 2015.
All other smartwatches have been flops. Apple’s watch appears, at least based on what it does, to be just like all the other smartwatches. It does notifications, some mapping, some messaging, and some health stuff.
So, Apple’s watch is doomed to meet the same fate as those other smartwatches, right? Probably not.
After wearing a nice watch for a few months, I think that Apple’s watch is going to be a success. Here’s why: Apple is a strong brand with a rich history of designing beautiful objects. The Apple Watch is no exception. And that will be enough to make it a success, even if it doesn’t have an immediately obvious use. It just has to look good on your wrist.
“The overall level of design in the Apple Watch simply blows away anything — digital or analogue — in the watch space at $US350,” says Benjamin Clymer, a watch obsessive, at his site Hodinkee. “There is nothing that comes close to the fluidity, attention to detail, or simple build quality found on the Apple Watch in this price bracket.”
That is the key difference between the Apple Watch, and say, the watches from Samsung, LG, or Motorola. Those smartwatches look and feel like cheap plastic hunks slapped on a watch band. They don’t look good.
When it comes to watches, “telling time is just an alibi,” says Sonny Vu, founder of wearable company Misfit. High-end watches have less to do with the function of knowing the time, and more to do with wearing an attractive fashion accessory.
Vu is generally negative on smartwatches. He thinks people don’t want “screens” on their wrists. They want gorgeous luxury items from companies like Cartier, or Breitling.
When I let my Rolex sit on my dresser for a few days it stops telling time. It’s not battery powered. It needs motion to work. When I put it on my wrist, I don’t necessarily wind it up, and set the date and time right away. In some instances I don’t even get around to setting the time until the end of the day.
But it doesn’t matter if the watch can’t tell time, because that’s not what it’s for. It exists simply to exist. It’s there for looks, and in my case, a memory of my father.
In the technology industry, this is something that’s hard to comprehend. Everything in tech is about efficiency. Products are built with utility in mind. An expensive watch is neither efficient, nor all that utilitarian. My iPhone is a better watch than my Rolex.
However, this is why I think the Apple Watch can succeed. Because it’s Apple, a premium brand, it can just sit on your wrist and make a statement about you, much like a Rolex. If it tells time, tracks your steps, and allows you to pay for things, that’s a bonus.
But the key hurdle to clear for success is that it makes a statement about its wearer. The Apple Watch will be able to make a statement.