Switzerland’s luxury watchmakers are anything but impressed with the Apple Watch, a move that signaled Apple’s foray into the timepiece territory.
“I was expecting more. I’m a bit disappointed,” industry legend Jean-Claude Biver told AFP. In fact, Biver told German media last week that, “It looks like it was designed by a student in their first semester.”
Biver went on to explain that the Apple Watch is not the revolutionary product it tries to sell itself as. In his opinion, the timepiece’s angular, square-framed, touch-screen face and augmented curved surfaces lacks sex appeal and overall, gives off a feminine vibe.
I can identify with Biver’s sentiment as I’ve heard plenty of comments from friends and fellow Apple geeks saying the same thing. Some go as far as calling the device an object birthed from Swatch meets Casio coming together to forge a smartwatch.
TAG Heuer chief Stephane Linder told AFP that he wasn’t expecting the Apple Watch to be so specialized and placed so much emphasis on sports and health monitoring functions. He mentioned that these applications are passé and have been in the market for years. However, he did express optimism and will definitely pay more attention when there are new applications for the Apple Watch.
This seems to be a case of Apple merely creating a new platform for web developers to innovate on. It is trying to optimize the way people interact with the world, but doesn’t seem to give any value-add to consumers by introducing a device that’s attempting to achieve an all-in-one objective.
We can empathize with the sentiments of the Swiss timepiece legends and giants. Apple has traditionally placed itself on the pedestal of owning change. In this instance, the Apple Watch feels very much like an attempt to make itself relevant in the smartwatch domain.
Jerome Bloch, who heads the men’s fashion unit at Parisian style agency Nelly Rodi, told AFP that Swiss luxury watchmakers had nothing to fear.
It’s also hardly surprising when the Swiss watchmakers appear dauntless by the Apple Watch, as both camps play at different ends of the pond and each compete for revenue and product supremacy in different market segments. While the markets are attempting to merge, there isn’t any direct competition between them, so to speak.
Bloch goes on to explain that comparing Apple’s new device to Swiss timepieces is like comparing a Mini Cooper to an Aston Martin.
Pricing strategies alone sets the two apart. Within the smartwatch market, the Apple Watch is priced at a premium, at USD349. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear launched at USD299 and Kickstarter-funded Pebble Watch costs only USD150.
If you compare this to the price points of Swiss luxury timepieces, TAG Heuer is in the 1,000-7,000 Swiss franc (USD1,100 – USD7,500) range, with some models going for as high as 200,000 francs (USD215,000). Other Swiss luxury brands offer timepieces priced well into the millions of francs.
Biver agrees with Bloch’s statements and said, ” Luxury is eternal, it is perennial. It is not something that becomes worthless after five years,” stressing that connected watches on the other hand were “doomed to become obsolete”.
Swatch Group , the world’s leading watchmaker saw its share price dip 1.76 per cent after Apple’s release. A big player in prestigious timepieces with its luxury brands like Breguet, Omega and Harry Winston, the Swiss group also owns Tissot and is best known for its colorful plastic Swatch watches.
But Swatch Group head Nicolas Hayek Jr., son of the late Co-founder and CEO Nicolas Hayek, has also dismissed his new rival, telling media he was “not nervous” about Apple diving into timepieces and insisting many of the capabilities offered in the new device were already available in Swiss watches. Apple’s digital crown button, which controls many functions to keep the screen visible, was inspired by a Breguet invention, he said.
“He commented that he saw no future in these smart watches and that Swatch Group would stay out of it,” as relayed by TechCrunch from an unknown source.
Swatch has attempted many interesting smart watches including LCD watches featuring something called Internet Time, a wonky system for unifying the timezones worldwide. Other ventures included the MSN SPOT watch, which was an FM-based transmission system that pushed data to a series of large LCD watches, offering up short messages, sports scores, and weather to the few customers who joined the service early on.
I remembered the Swatch-Motorola joint venture from decades back where they engineered the world’s first pager watch together, which gave us one of the first instances of wearable tech back in the 90s.
Swatch might have abandoned their smartwatch ambitions, but TAG Heuer looks set to join the techno-watch fray. The company previously created a limited edition run of the Aquaracer AC72 of which only 50 pieces of these were made.
The smartwatches were designed specifically for the World Cup sailing efforts of Oracle Team USA, removing moving hands entirely. A simple monochrome display was utilized to report sailing metrics like wind direction and intensity.
TAG Heuer intends to further these efforts, “We want to launch a smartwatch at TAG Heuer, but it must not copy the Apple Watch,” Biver told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag. His comments were subsequently relayed by Reuters. Biver further added that TAG Heuer would show off smart watches at the Baselworld expo in March 2015 at the latest, but gave no other details.
Biver admitted to Reuters while speaking with them in March, that the challenges TAG Heuer faces are access to the right technology and the rapid depreciation of intrinsic value for smart watches. “A watch costing thousands of francs, like a Hublot, cannot afford to become obsolete after a year.” he added.
“This is something we brainstorm. And if we find something, we could try it,” TAG Heuer CEO Stephane Linder told TechHive in July. “But I don’t see us taking a big risk, unless we find a way to make luxury watches looking like real luxury watches that provide very easy-to-use, smart information that isn’t complicated and don’t just replicate the mobile phone.”
It sounds like the company has figured out a way forward. Personally, I agree to TAG Heuer’s approach and I probably belong to the group of smartwatch users who finds it redundant to carry two devices that replicates each others’ functions. It provides a new voice in the conversation about the future of wearables, and it will be exciting to see what this camp will do next.