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Japanese and Swiss Watchmakers Scoff At Smartwatches 399

Posted by samzenpus
from the that's-adorable dept.
jfruh (300774) writes "With rumors swirling about Apple entering the wearable space with an iWatch, you'd think that the Japanese and Swiss companies that have dominated high-end watchmaking for more than a century would be scrambling to catch up. But there were virtually no smartwatches on display at the Baselworld trade fair, and the watchmaking giants had no plans to produce any. Company representatives seemed sure that people in practice would be uninterested in constantly recharging their watches and downloading software updates just to tell time."
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Japanese and Swiss Watchmakers Scoff At Smartwatches

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  • by Assmasher (456699) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:38AM (#46858267) Journal

    ...how that attitude worked out for them.

    10 years from now there won't be watches without some sort of connectivity except for specialty pieces designed from the outset to satisfy luddites.

    • by Majestix (41486)

      Im waiting for the 1k year battery that will power my smart watch long past my death. Is probably in the glove-box of my flying car.

      K

    • You should definitely add some sarcasm mark to that, or people might take you seriously.

    • The problem with that assumption is that a watch isn't a timepiece. At least upscale watches aren't timepieces, exactly. They're principally jewelry. And much like Rolex never made a calculator watch, don't expect them to make a smart watch either. In any event, I don't see much advantage to being an early adopter in this space. Their customers aren't banging down the door asking for a smart watch. The people I know who have smart watches so far are not your typical watch customer.

      • by rioki (1328185) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:18AM (#46858769) Homepage

        Same with fountain pens. People by fountain pens because it is a sign of class and status, same is with watches.

        • Same with fountain pens. People by fountain pens because it is a sign of class and status, same is with watches.

          I don't care about class or status, I wear a wristwatch for 2 reasons:

          1) I've always worn one, and I feel kind of naked without it

          2) "remove phone from pocket/turn on screen/twist body to shield screen from sun/read time" seems like a huge waste of time and effort, compared to "twist wrist/read time"

          OK, 3 reasons:

          3) my kinetic (ie self-winding) windup watch will always be able to tell the time, so long as I keep it wound and don't break it.

        • by kyrsjo (2420192)

          ... and because they are very nice tools when writing. Mine has a plastic handle, cost somewhere between 10 and 20 € and does not look like much, but it does help making my handwriting somewhat legible, and enables me to keep writing for a while without fatigue.

          Sure you can get super-expensive fancy fontain pens which are 90% status symbols - as you can with phones, cars, clothes, and practically everything else - but that doesn't mean that all fountain pens are just status symbols.

    • by xclr8r (658786) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:58AM (#46858513)
      Just as there are certain types of "Audiophiles" (for better or worse and they do not all exhibit the same amount of ...), there are also Watchphiles too. They hang out at sites like http://www.watchismo.com/ [watchismo.com] . Watches are highly individualistic time peices. I see lots of people foregoing the watch because their smartphone has the time. There will be some culling of the lower tier watches that don't adapt but their will always be room for the "classic time piece" e.g. there's still a market for pocket watches.
    • ...how that attitude worked out for them.

      Not the most observant person, are we? Next time you're in a brick-and-mortar establishment, take a second to look around at just what kind of phones they have on the various desks, kiosks, checkouts, et. al.

      FYI, the "corded phone manufacturers" are doing just fine; hell, they sell me (or rather, my clients) thousands of phones and replacement parts every single year.

      • by rioki (1328185)

        The question is, for how long? Granted I have a phone at my desk, but I think this is more about organisational inertia. I very rarely use the phone, if I ever have voice communication with colleagues, it almost always is some form of VOIP. Granted we may see some "corded" VOIP phones turn up, but the POTS is going to die some time around. My guess is along 10-20 years.

        • Granted we may see some "corded" VOIP phones turn up

          The corded phones businesses use have almost always been "corded" VOIP phones. No large business uses POTS.

      • by kyrsjo (2420192)

        Yeah, biggest change is that today they're attached to the ethernet port instead of needing their own cable system, and has access to the company phonebook via LDAP etc. They have also become quite complicated - when I got the phone on my desk, it came with a little folder instructing me how to install the operating system. That think literally has more buttons than my laptop...

        • Yeah, biggest change is that today they're attached to the ethernet port instead of needing their own cable system, and has access to the company phonebook via LDAP etc. They have also become quite complicated - when I got the phone on my desk, it came with a little folder instructing me how to install the operating system. That think literally has more buttons than my laptop...

          Sometimes, yes. Usually in corporate offices, though, not in the actual retail locations.

          But a lot of the time (more often than you think), they're connected to Cat3, which is subsequently wired into a key system, pulling dial tone from POTS lines. I know, because I coordinate their installations every single day (and yes, it kills me to have a brand new, VoIP capable system installed, just to have the client use it as a POTS key system).

          We're talking 150 - 200 system installs a year, 10-20 phones per insta

    • Of the people who still use watches, they do it precisely because they want just the time with batteries that go on forever or even don't use batteries at all, or consider the device as more an art piece or fashion statement than a practical tool.

      Sure, some may go to smartwatches, but I'm wagering the vast majority of the opportunity for smartwatches are people who don't bother with a watch anymore because they've already gone to 'just phones'. In other words, the extent to which the 'non-luddite' market e

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:18AM (#46858765) Homepage

      10 years from now there won't be watches without some sort of connectivity except for specialty pieces designed from the outset to satisfy luddites.

      Bullshit. Not everybody wants a smart watch. That doesn't make you a luddite ... you may in fact be a fan of time pieces.

      I have a couple of skeleton watches, meaning you can see through the watch face to the actual gears and mechanical bits of the watch.

      The aesthetics of the watch itself is the point. Just because someone doesn't feel the need to use every shiny bauble and gew gaw the tech industry comes up with doesn't make them a luddite.

      I'm completely surrounded by electronics and technology already, and I don't see a smart watch as being something I'm particularly interested in. In fact, it's something I can't see the point of for me ... I don't text enough to need to have it constantly attached to me, any more than I can't be away from my phone (which I refuse to buy a data plan for, because wifi covers my needs). I also don't need Apple (or whoever) to be able to track every little I thing I do throughout my day.

      If you think the big name watch makers all need to get on board with this or die, you're overly fetishizing technology. There will always be a market for mechanical watches. You really think suddenly nobody is going to want to own a Rolex because there exist smartwatches? If you do, you don't know anything about people who buy watches.

      Some people still have plain old-fashioned analog sex too, and haven't embraced teledildonics. And, thankfully, most of us never will.

      For many of us, technology is a tool, but not the be all and end all of our existence. Knowing when to draw the line and walk away from it doesn't make you a luddite, it means you have a better perspective on shit that really matters.

    • Would that be the same way there aren't any mechanical watches available today, decades after digital and electronic watches came on the market?

    • by Lucas123 (935744)
      I don't believe most people will want technology in their watches. They wear them for time telling and fashion, not connectivity. Thinks about G-Force watches. How many people do you see wearing those these days? Same goes for eyeglasses. They won't be a big seller because people simply don't want to walk around with a heads-up screen in front of their face. Having that technology in your pocket is good enough. I have all the latest technology in my home, but I wear a Swiss watch because of its fine craftsm
    • ...how that attitude worked out for them.

      10 years from now there won't be watches without some sort of connectivity except for specialty pieces designed from the outset to satisfy luddites.

      I wouldn't be entirely sanguine about the future of watches in the 'just a basic quartz oscillator; but dressed up to the 50-100 range' sector; but why would the $2 expendables and the $$$ pointlessly-mechanical-man-jewelry sector worry? The former will always be cheaper than watches with additional parts, and the latter 'should' have been wiped out by superior quartz oscillator technology; but obviously wasn't.

    • by rikkards (98006)

      Actually I think they are right. I don't wear a watch anymore as I have my smartphone. However if I was going to start wearing a watch it would be more like jewelry and fancy-schmancy.

      BTW I still have a corded phone. Works well in a power outage/minor disaster (aka ice storm 99/Eastcoast blackout). I rarely use it but better to have and not need than to need and not have.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:41AM (#46858301)

    Company representatives seemed sure that people in practice would be uninterested in constantly recharging their watches and downloading software updates just to tell time.

    I think that for most users they are right for now. But when a smart-watch can be charged weekly or have battery changes annually it will be a different story,

    • A very different market.

      High End watches are a work of art. They don't even make digital watches, and they never passed them off as a neat idea.

      However if we think back to the 1980's, a lot of people wore digital watches. The common adult model went beep every hour, and could be setup to run as a stopwatch, and a alarm clock. (The standard 4 button model). Sure if you wanted to go on a job interview or to a stylish place you probably wouldn't wear the watch and go with the fancy analog one.

      Today most of th

  • Missing the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by benjfowler (239527) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:43AM (#46858321)

    There are two markets:

    One -- served by commodity electronics -- watches that do something useful.

    The other -- served by high-end, hand-made jewellery that don't actually function all that well as watches. For richarses with more dollars than sense, who want to show off.

    This is like comparing apples and oranges.

    • It seems to me that the "high-end, hand-made jewellery market that don't actually function all that well as watches" is the one that has the most to fear from "smart" watches- "smart" devices are being treated more and more like fashion accessories.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chatterton (228704)

        You can find good hand made mechanical watches from 1000$ but they are still not what I could call high-end. At that price you start to expect to not find someone else with the same watch.

        I have a mechanical watches because:
        1) They are damns fine piece of mechanical art and craftsmanship
        2) Seeing them ticking is mesmerizing
        3) I am pretty sure that I will never encounter someone else with the same ones

        I will never buy a "smart" whatever crap that every one else has. I want my watch to show who am i. I don't

    • Not quite. There are three segments (besides the "I'll just look at my phone" segment):

      People who want to tell accurate time. These are served by digital quartz watches, the higher end ones synchronize with time transmissions every night.

      People who want something which is more than just another piece of consumer electronics and will actually retain some value over a long period. (And doesn't look like a cheap piece of shit, like most digital watches, regardless of their price, do) This is the market for mec

      • by timeOday (582209)

        People who want a smartwatch, for whatever reason. Problem is, they still mostly look like crap, aren't exactly cheap and aren't really more accurate than a regular quartz watch.

        Connected watches actually do keep time better, because they can re-sync with a source every day. A have a Garmin running watch that even sets the time zone automatically, including daylight savings. I set all my other watches and clocks by it. (But except for running I normally wear a Casio because it's plenty accurate, does

      • by countach (534280)

        Well, they are probably more accurate than almost all quartz watches, because they sync. At least all the quartz ones that don't sync with time signals, and most places in the world don't have time signals.

    • by Goaway (82658)

      Apple doesn't really enter existing markets. They make new ones.

      • by countach (534280)

        Apple didn't invent the MP3 player, the tablet, the smartphone and a ton of other stuff they sell.

    • by swb (14022) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:21AM (#46858807)

      For my 40th birthday, my wife gave me a Tag Heuer chronograph (day, date, with stopwatch indicators for seconds, minutes and hours). I had been a long-time wearer of a digital watch, in fact I still wore the same Timex digital watch I bought at at Target in 1986 when I got this watch.

      I'm not sure what "don't function all that well" means. About the only timekeeping weaknesses this watch has is that it is prone to run a little slow, needing to be moved ahead a minute or so every month, the date needs to be set when leaving a month with less than 31 days and of course DST adjustments.

      Beyond that, it's a great timepiece. It's self-winding, so it never needs batteries. Waterproof to 300 meters. The sapphire crystal is totally clear and free of scratches. The stopwatch is handy for cooking or whatever simple timing needs I have.

      Now, serious watch people tell me this really isn't a "serious" watch from a jewelry perspective, but it was $2300 when I got it and I don't think I'd want a more "serious" watch than this for the kind of money those sorts of watches go for.

    • by countach (534280)

      What about $100 Seikos, like say an SKX007? Hardly for richarses. Not electronic. I think functions plenty well enough for its intended purpose.

    • While you are right that a $30K watch is not primarily a time keeping device, I have never heard of a high end watch that simply did not function that well as a watch. Normally, that added price somewhat does go into buying improved mechanisms and the gold and jewels do not get in the way of viewing the hands.

  • Jewelry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:53AM (#46858441) Journal

    I wear a watch 1) to tell time and 2) as a piece of jewelry. Besides a wedding ring it's about the only piece of jewelry a guy can wear, and if you buy something nice (I have an Ebel Brasilia) it'll last forever, retain its value, and you can pass it on to your kids as a family heirloom.

    That's the target market for luxury watchmakers. A smart watch is never going to compete with watches worn as jewelry.

    • by langelgjm (860756)

      Agree. I have 6 watches. One is a dirt cheap analog Casio which is strapped to a motorcycle. One is a dirt cheap digital Timex which is also strapped to a different motorcycle. The other four are fancier, various colors (gold & leather, aluminum, steel, copper). I might wear a watch once a week, and I pick it to match what I'm wearing.

      All the fancy ones were gifts. The next watch I buy will probably be another cheap Casio to strap on my bicycle. I think a smart watch is going to be a tough sell when eve

    • ...and you can pass it on to your kids as a family heirloom.

      And I think this is an important part of the puzzle. The idea of buying an expensive watch mostly makes sense if you assume you're going to keep it for a long time. Most expensive watch-makers are selling something built to last a lifetime, while gadget-makers are building things to be replaced every 2 years. You might keep your Rolex for 25 years, but I guarantee that your Pebble watch will be ridiculously obsolete in less than 5 years.

      They're different sorts of businesses servicing different markets.

    • by Lluc (703772)

      I wear a watch 1) to tell time and 2) as a piece of jewelry. Besides a wedding ring it's about the only piece of jewelry a guy can wear, and if you buy something nice (I have an Ebel Brasilia) it'll last forever, retain its value, and you can pass it on to your kids as a family heirloom.

      That's the target market for luxury watchmakers. A smart watch is never going to compete with watches worn as jewelry.

      High-end jewelry watches will retain some value, but I doubt I could buy one today and sell it for the same price next year. Long term it will probably retain 50-75% of its inflation adjusted purchase value, *if* you get a good deal on it and *if* it is in like-new condition. I'm sure you can find ultra-limited production runs of watches that go for over $25k that will retail full value within a set group of collectors, but i doubt an average Rolex will do to well as an investment.

  • what's a "watch"? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:53AM (#46858449)

    did a little googling - turns out that people actually used to pay money for a single-purpose device that was advertised as keeping time but had no ntp support & left a tan line! they were apparently popular when it was fashionable to navigate with floating magnets, capture images with chemically coated strips of plastic and listen to music stored on removable media.

  • Style (Score:5, Insightful)

    by McGruber (1417641) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:55AM (#46858473)

    But there were virtually no smartwatches on display at the Baselworld trade fair, and the watchmaking giants had no plans to produce any.

    That's because they understand that good taste never goes out of style.

  • Design the watches with spare batteries that get swapped in seconds. One in the charger and one in the wrist. Swap them once a day or once a week.

    Make the software update automatic. Use the watch as simple status update device with rudimentary controls. As one who has used Timex+Microsoft datalink watches which downloaded contact lists by the flashing bars of a CRT display back in 1996, I tell you, there is a market for a well designed smart watch designed smartly.

  • Why invest milions of dollars into a platform that only a handful of people are going to use?

    Omega Smartwatch: No apps because the few hundred people who have them aren't really enough of a market to bother developing for. Especially not when [whatever smartwatch platform ends up winning in the end, if any] has two or three orders of magnitude more users.

    Far more likely scenario: Let the Pebbles and the Samsungs and the rest duke it out for marketshare, then partner with them. What do you bet Pebble would j

  • I agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oic0 (1864384) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:10AM (#46858653)
    How much smart device redundancy do you need on your person at any given time? I think my phone is enough, especially given Its huge screen and larger battery. No reason to compromise my watch with a battery life hundreds of times shorter just to have it do crap my phone already does.
    • by Zebedeu (739988)

      I've been quite interested in smartwatches in general because I actually think they can be quite useful, depending on the implementation.
      I haven't had the courage to get one yet since technically the current offerings seem to be a bit on the weak side, and they tend to look the equivalent of those calculator waches from the 80s.
      The Motorola watch seems to be the first smartwatch to actually look the part, and hopefully the Android Wear thing will cover the other part. We'll see.

      Anyway, I do not see the watc

  • The long-term question isn't whether people want a watch or something more generalized, it's more a question of whether your wrist is a viable place to wear something useful. Traditional watches and the plethora of UP/Fuel/FitBit bands seem to say "sure."

    Any disruptive technology starts out less effective than the thing it's disrupting. Early cell phones were big, clunky, and had short battery life; early smart phones had clunky keyboards and low bandwidth; early SSD drives were (are) more expensive and s

  • The quartz watch was invented by the Swiss watch manufactures. But they decided that people wouldn't like them and kept with the mechanical models. The Japanese took the quartz idea and ran with it, and in a few years, the Swiss watch makers to relegated to a niche market. Somehow, I suspect we're going to be seeing a repeat of history.

  • by PPH (736903)

    F-91W [wikipedia.org]. It does everything I need a watch to do.

  • by RevWaldo (1186281) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:15AM (#46858727)
    It's far easier for a computer company to create computers that strap to your wrist than it is for a watch company to create watches with computer functionality. Besides there's no real risk of being "locked out" of the market. Plenty of cross-licensing/design/development opportunities will be available if smartwatches ever become a thing.

    .
  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:20AM (#46858795)
    I really think 'it depends.' I'm Gen-X and have an Omega Seamaster on my wrist. I've worn it nearly every day for nearly a decade (don't wear it when I'm travelling to some destinations - Then it's my Timex.) I like wearing a nice analog watch, but then I iron my shirts and don't wear runners outside of the gym either. I think there will always be a market for people like me, the question is whether that market will die off as my generation dies off...
  • For those who like Swiss watches - or even high end Japanese watches (Seiko Spring drives..), a smart watch is not necessarily an 'upgrade'. I choose to wear a mechanical watch because I like mechanical watches.

    Sure, I have a G-Shock for when I'm going somewhere a Swiss timepiece isn't a good idea, but for the most part, I wear a Swiss automatic - usually a stainless Rolex GMT Master II. (pepsi bezel, baybee!) Why? Because I like the way it looks, and it's about as close to jewelry as I'll ever get.

    A
  • Company representatives seemed sure that people in practice would be uninterested in constantly recharging their watches and downloading software updates just to tell time.

    That's short sighted. Smartwatches serve as much to tell time as smartphones serve to make calls, i.e. it's one of the basic functions, but it does so much more that the original use is not even the main one any more.
    Nobody will charge their watch every night just to tell the time, but they may do it if they think it's worth the hassle for the extra functionality.

    Of course, there's still the argument to be made whether those extra functions are something people will actually want, but it just seems these co

  • Watches stopped being about telling time a while ago. Devices that tell time are ubiquitous; from phones to microwaves. Watches, especially high-end watches, are fashion accessories. Many are hard to read but it doesn't matter because they aren't really used as time pieces. Calling the new devices "watches" simple because they are designed to be worn on the wrist is a mistake. Telling time is the least of their functionality but so easy to include; why not?

  • Must be embedded under the skin.
  • by Karlt1 (231423) on Monday April 28, 2014 @01:01PM (#46860569)

    http://www.engadget.com/2006/11/21/palms-ed-colligan-laughs-off-iphone/

    "We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone, PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in."

    How did that work out?

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