I understand the tendency for new technologies to leverage the familiarity of the old to usher in the new. Early film leaned on melodramatic theater and vaudeville before it found its native forms. TV mimicked radio in its earliest years. And the Internet looked to all like one big publishing platform that traditional media should own, until search, social and e-commerce evolved a different path. I get the McLuhan argument about first needing to rely on, then dispense, old forms on new media.
But the watch? Really? According to Juniper Research, I may be alone in my repulsion. They say worldwide smartwatch shipments will reach 36 million by 2018. The arrival of the two big smartphone powerhouses will be the driver. "By educating and publicizing this device segment to the consumer, Apple and Samsung will indeed act as a catalyst to the market,” says Juniper’s Nitin Bhas. These higher-end multi-function devices will appeal to users as much or more than watches. They will incorporate fitness trackers, mobile payment or ticketing functions as well.
All of which could be satisfied perhaps by a band like the current fitness accessories. At least these things can pass as emblems of support for a cause. But a watch? There is something disarmingly retro about all of this. I understand that there has been a rebound in the long-suffering timepiece market in recent years. As watches become less relevant on a functional basis, and dismissed by the youngest demos, the fashionistas settle in. Style, price, and aching, deliberate irrelevance are, after all, the building blocks of luxury fashion.
Still, I am not buying it. I always hated wearing watches. For years I sported a pocket watch to avoid the feeling of having something strapped on. Making the transition from pocket watch to cell phone as timepiece was pretty fluid for me. I am fine with the idea of wearable, connected devices, mind you. I truly believe that this next wave of technology is going to create a gusher of data that people will want to control. Companies will be made and broken on their ability to craft real service around the intimate proximity of wearable devices to peoples’ movement, health, visual perspective, communications needs. I believe all of that.
But a watch? Please -- not a watch. Make a smart patch and slap it on my ass. Put a hearing-aid like nub in my ear. Implant a screen on my forearm. Put a projector on my fitband so it can throw an image on the desk. If we must give a nod to the past in order to move into the future, let’s pick another aging accessory. Give my pen an IQ. Educate my bow tie. How about smart suspenders, intelligent garters, thoughtful spats, insightful girdles, gifted berets, a brilliant monocle? Anything but a smart watch.