Ever since the dawn of the smartphones and –tablets, the discussion of ‘smartwatches’ has been looming in the dark. Over the past 12 months though, we have seen the concept solidify in the form of several smart-only watches (i.e. a watch that is fully “smart” and non-mechanical) and a few attempts of blending technology with tradition. For the hardcore enthusiast this is something of a concern, which seems valid when digging into the latest offering: Frederique Constant & Alpina Swiss Horological Smartwatches.
We’ve seen the Kairos, that I am personally following closely as development moves closer to production, and we’ve seen the Montblanc E-Strap on the Timewalker Urban Speed. The latter of the two is perhaps the most interesting, and most unlikely to ”disturb” the feel of a mechanical watch. You can still enjoy your TimeWalker, or any model you decide to strap it on to, while being notified in the case of an emergency or important event. True, the impact and usability of both can be debatable but where there is doubt, there can also be merit. At least these two concepts are tying the best of both worlds together in one platform.
A joint-venture between silicon valley smart-technology developer Fullpower Technologies and watch-conglomerate Union Horlogère Holding, owner of Frederique Constant and Alpina, resulted in the Swiss based company of Manufacture Modules Technologies (MMT). No doubt the location of MMT is basically a marketing trick, as it allows them to label their products as “Swiss made”.
Looking at the watches, we must emphasize the most important feature, or actually lack thereof; no mechanical watchmaking. Not in the first two models presented, nor in the other eight to be introduced over the course of 2015. Everything relies on a battery. From a personal standpoint, batteries are nothing to be ashamed of. Remember Devon? All batteries there!
The second BIG concern though, is what both watches actually do. And that is where it goes south quickly. Going through the features of the watches, it comes across as a glorified step-counter. It tells time, and indicates the date. Oh, and you can apparently let it indicate something to 100. It can be used to monitor progress in determinable goals, like steps or sleep. Other than that, it is supposed to offer sleep-cycle alarms and get-active alerts as well. Without any indication on the watches themselves, it begs to ask: why?
The problem with these watches is that it doesn’t really seem to do more than already existing products. A Jawbone or a Nike Gear does the same, so does my brand-spanking new LG G3 smartphone. The only difference is, this looks like a traditional watch. But is that the saving grace? No, most gadgets not needed on a daily basis end up in some drawer within 3 to 6 months. That’s ok when it is affordable, but when it costs you $ 995,- or more? Would you still feel comfortable discarding it, and strapping on your mechanical watch again?
THIS is why bigger players in the industry should have got out in front of this movement. THIS is why you do not want to rely on a halfhearted attempt for pushing boundaries and developing new platforms. The problem is the term at hand; smartwatch. What makes a watch “smart”? Is that merely the incorporation of a connectable module and nothing more? Does it mean the watch needs to have added features that push a watch to where it hasn’t been before? Until we have a clear, formulated description of this, the term will probably be abused as it has been now. And, quite simply, there are better options out there to enjoy proper mechanical watches in coherence with smart technology. I’d opt for a Kairos or a Montblanc E-Strap any day of the week.
Now, the first step by the industry has been a stumble.