Was the Apple Watch announcement Monday (March 9) worth all the ink and excitement?
On one hand, we know plenty of engineers who’ll say, flat out: “It's basically just a fashion statement. Who cares?”
On the other hand, there are eternal optimists — like Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research — who told the Financial Times a few days ago, “I continue to believe that the Apple Watch coming out will float all boats.”
The truth, I believe, is somewhere in between.
There are many smartwatch questions. Why isn’t the market picking up? What’s the optimal user interface? What are the killer smartphone apps? Should it be a standalone Dick Tracy watch or could it be a sort of smartphone sidekick? How long should a battery last? But there is only one smartwatch question that really matters: Why wear it?
This is the era when most young people stopped wearing watches. So, why regress? Just because someone calls it “smart”?
of his own design
The “why” question is pretty important, because it was integral to the birth of the first wristwatch — ever.
The very notion of the wristwatch is a little over a hundred years old. Flamboyant Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont provided the inspiration for the design when he complained to his friend, the renowned French jeweler Louis Cartier, that he couldn't free his hands to consult his pocket watch while flying.
Cartier developed his Santos-Dumont prototype in 1904. The aviator wore it in fashion-conscious Paris two years later during his first successful public flight — covering about 200 feet — in a strange-looking biplane of his own design called the 14-bis.
When Santos-Dumont emerged from the craft and checked his wristwatch to make sure he had set a new distance record, spectators got a glimpse of Cartier's design. It was one of the most successful product placements in history.
Santos-Dumont then knew exactly why he wanted to wear a wristwatch. To add flair and compel the rest of the world (who weren’t crazy aviators and didn’t need a wristwatch for airborne purposes) to try one, the timepiece carried the prestigious Cartier brand.
Watching the Apple Watch announcement, it dawned on me that Apple has done a lot of things right — to entice people to, well, take a flyer with this gadget.
An Apple Watch ad, with the pounding of drums and the force of redundancy, conveys the myriad possibilities of the Watch user interface. What comes through is Apple’s awareness that no one smartwatch can fit everyone’s taste. The watch comes not only in all colors but also in all functions. The tagline: “There’s an Apple Watch for everyone.”
Why not: “There’s a person for every Apple Watch?”
Of course, Santos-Dumont first piqued public curiosity, and the Cartier design made wristwatches instantly fashionable, the watch was analog. The watch had a fixed UI, offering one fixed function — to tell time.
Apple seems to grasp the power of simplicity that attached to the original wristwatches. The company says in its website, “Since wristwatches were invented in the 19th century, people have been glancing at them to check the time.”
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