Is a Smartwatch Really a Watch?
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Is a Smartwatch Really a Watch?

- By Keith Lehman (PA) 11/18/16

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Part 1

Since installing the smartwatch display here at the National Watch and Clock Museum the question, “Is a smartwatch really a watch?” began to float around. At first the question seemed like an inside joke. After all, here at the Museum we are surrounded by some of the greatest mechanical timepieces in the world, but there were already differences of opinion. As it grew more into a discussion, it became clear that it was a question worth asking outside the Museum’s walls.

As an ongoing WatchNews series, the question of whether a smartwatch is really a watch will be answered by watchmakers, collectors, enthusiasts, and industry experts.

My personal take on this question? Yes, a smartwatch is, in fact, a watch. Mainstream dictionaries do not definitively describe a smartwatch as a watch, but it does perform functions of and beyond those of what we typically think a watch does. Developments in technology have continuously challenged what we call just about everything. An electric guitar is still a guitar even though advancements in technology made the original guitar an acoustic guitar. I imagine the same question arose when the electric and quartz watches came out and I can only imagine the din when LCD displays hit the market.

I will also argue that the Apple Watch is the only smartwatch, meaning that it currently has no real competition. But that is a different discussion for another time.

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Noel Poirier, director of the National Watch and Clock Museum, had a different take on the matter:

“Simply calling something a watch does not make it so. The simple definition of a watch is 'a small timepiece worn typically on a strap on one’s wrist'. I would add also though that a watch is purpose built to tell the user the time. That is its role; it’s what it was built or manufactured to do."

“Were we to extend the name ‘watch’ to any object that has the ability to tell you the time, we’d have to include your microwave, your car, and the thermostat in your home. All of these have the ability to tell you what time it is. They were not, however, built to do so. A car is built to take you from point A to point B; simply putting a means to tell time into the design does not make it a timepiece."

“So it is with smartwatches, designed to allow the user to interface with their phone and the world using a variety of applications. The fact that one of those applications has the ability to tell its wearer what time it is does not make it a watch.”

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Roland Murphy, watchmaker and founder of RGM Watch Company gave us his insights:

“Yes, I think a smartwatch is a watch, but it is also more than that. It is a watch with a short life-span as advancements in technology will make it obsolete very quickly like a mobile phone and you will need the next generation."

“I also think these smartwatches are getting younger people used to wearing a watch. They used their phone for a time, but now they are wearing a smartwatch on their wrist. As they get older they will also want a quality watch to wear on occasions and keep long term besides their smartwatch.”

Roland Murphy, watchmaker and founder of RGM Watch Company gave us his insights:

As you can see there is a wide range of opinions on this matter. Look forward to future posts about this surprisingly engaging topic.

What do you think? Is a smartwatch really a watch? If you’d like to share your thoughts email watch_editor@nawcc.org. We’d be happy to hear from you.

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