Before this week’s reveal of the Apple Watch, its designer Jony Ive famously told journalists that the Swiss watchmaking industry was “fucked.” While the Appe Watch is by far the most beautiful and feature packed smartwatch to date, I don’t think Swiss watchmakers are fucked at all. In fact, I don’t think they’re even making products in the same category.
Sure, it’s called an Apple Watch but it’s not a watch. Not really. In fact, every smartwatch isn’t actually a watch and therein lies their fatal flaw.
Before the wearables craze, think about how watches fit in your life. How often did you buy a watch? Maybe once or twice a year? And how long does that watch last? Well if you picked a good one, it’ll last a lifetime, maybe even longer.
Now think about your phone. You buy a new one maybe once every two to three years and discard the old one. Or if you’re like me, you dump it into a Rubbermaid bin that serves as your electronics graveyard/place to store your cables.
While a good watch will be passed down for generations a smartwatch is destined for obsolescence.
And now with smartwatches, you’ll have another device to dump into the bin every few years. While a good watch will be passed down for generations a smartwatch is destined for obsolescence. If the battery dies, good luck replacing it. It’s tough enough replacing an iPhone battery, let alone changing a battery in a completely sealed off smartwatch. So in a sense, both your phone and smartwatch are disposable objects designed to be replaced.
Even the software is designed to go obsolete. Every computer, every phone and every smartwatch will go obsolete because development for it will cease at some point in its life. I have a second-generation iPod touch that’s basically unusable now because no modern app supports such an “old” device, even though the hardware works just fine.
Each watch has a story to tell.
A watch, however, is meant to keep ticking no matter what. It’s this reliability and the timelessness of the design that makes watches so compelling for me. A watch to me does more than just tell the time. It is a work of art and a fashion statement that will never go out of style. And beyond that, each watch I own has a story to tell.
Take the above Citizen submariner homage for example. It was given to me by my parents after graduating high school. I still remember going to Macy’s with them to choose a watch. I took it to college where it survived 8AM lectures and bonfires with friends. It’s a cheap watch but I’ve bonded with it nonetheless. I eventually lent it to my girlfriend because the 38mm size is perfect for her. She used it until the battery died. I popped in a new battery and the watch started ticking as strong as the first day I got it.
And the pride and joy of my current watch collection is my Omega day date. My mother purchased it for her brother when they arrived in the United States. My uncle worked in construction and not knowing what an Omega was, wore it to construction sites where it was beaten and battered. He eventually threw it in a drawer and forgot about it. My dad later discovered it and took it home, where eventually I would find it and restore it to its former glory. There are plenty of dents, scratches and aging but it still ticks. It hasn’t been serviced in over twenty years and it still ticks. A good watch that’s taken care of will undoubtedly outlive you.
Smartwatches won’t have stories because they’ll only last a few years. I can’t imagine a smartwatch being passed down to another generation because it won’t even work at that point. The battery will be dead and the software obsolete. But it’s not to say smartwatches aren’t useful. They do offer a bit more convenience for some people, but their appeal won’t last. Smartwatches will be like pagers; they were useful and made sense at the time but no one’s reminiscing about them.
After trying both the LG G Watch and the Motorola Moto 360, I was itching to put on a regular watch. The reason I love watches is the same reason I love driving a manual transmission car and why I have a turntable. There’s something so satisfying about objects that are completely analog. Hearing a watch tick, feeling the transmission going into gear and dropping the needle on a record all provide the same kind of joy.
A smartwatch just doesn’t have the timelessness of a watch. So no, Switzerland’s economy will not tank, Mr. Ive. As far as I’m concerned, you’re not even playing the same game.