Fashion Versus Function: The Smartwatch Journey to Success and Identity
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Fashion Versus Function: The Smartwatch Journey to Success and Identity

- By Keith Lehman (PA) 3/3/17

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According to Google Trends, the word smartwatch materialized on the world stage in January 2012, but this doesn’t mean that smartwatches didn’t exist before then. In 2004 Swatch joined forces with Microsoft and released the Paparazzi. Based on Microsoft’s Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT), the watch was truly ahead of its time and earned the title of being the first true smartwatch. Utilizing FM wave signals, the watch wirelessly connected to the Internet and provided news, stock prices, weather reports, and even had apps—all without the need of a cell phone!

So why did the Paparazzi fail? Discontinued in 2008, the word smartwatch doesn’t grace the Internet zeitgeist again until 2012 when initial rumblings of the Apple Watch surfaced. If you think price was the killer, you are mistaken. The Paparazzi retailed for $150 with a yearly data subscription of $59 a year. If only our smartwatches and smartphone plans would be that inexpensive! Functionality doesn’t seem to be the issue according to a CNET review in 2005.

In her article “A fashion expert just nailed why smartwatches have never really caught on” Business Insider’s Avery Hartmans looks to the fashion experts to divine why smartwatches aren’t as popular as initially promised and how fashionable hybrid smartwatches may be the way to success. Respectfully, I think an oversight in this article is that it only examines the current smartwatch market and doesn’t look to the past.

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Swatch Paparazzi Smartwatch photo taken at the National Watch & Clock Museum. KEITH LEHMAN.

The Swatch Group is a titan in the fields of fashion and watchmaking. Swatch single-handedly saved the Swiss watchmaking industry in 1983 with the debut of the Swatch Watch—a marvel of both technical and cultural ingenuity. The Swatch Watch quartz moment outclassed its competitors in Asia and created a cultural phenomenon and a Swatch collector craze worldwide. Even today Swatch is an innovator in watch design, so I think it’s safe to say that nobody knows fashion and consumer needs better than The Swatch Group. Apple has a good record of achievements with its cultural and technical creations, as well as its Apple II and iMac computers and accessories, including the iPod and iPhone.

Because the Apple Watch was the highest selling watch brand next to Rolex in 2016 and Fossil’s recent announcement that it will launch more than 300 hybrid smartwatches and wearable tech in 2017, it’s clear that watch and fashion brands anticipate consumer demand. I agree with Hartmens that smartwatches are not what had been promised to us. I say as much in my post, “It’s Time for Smartwatch Makers to Give Us What We Really Want.” However, I don’t think that a third paradigm in hybrids will skyrocket demand.

Sour Grapes

Aside to the post: In Jon Mentor’s article, “Swatch Swatch Skeptical of Apple iWatch Role” Nick Hayek Jr., then chief executive officer of Swatch stated, “Personally, I don’t believe it’s the next revolution. Replacing an iPhone with an interactive terminal on your wrist is difficult. You can’t have an immense display.” This is three years before the Apple Watch Series One launched, and it’s clear that watch industry professionals have become more guarded about their smartwatch future predictions.

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