Swatch plans to bring the wearables fight to tech companies with its own smartwatch
Swatch is getting back into the smartwatch business, and this time it's not going to need any help from a technology company.
Reuters reports that the Swiss watchmaker plans to release a watch with a touchscreen, Bluetooth connections to other devices, and a step counter in 2015.
This isn't the first time Swatch has augmented its timepieces with more advanced features, but it will be the first time the company developed the tech used in the product by itself -- when it first released a smartwatch in 2004 it did so in partnership with Microsoft. Now it's on its own.
That's a bold move for a company with little tech experience, but that might be exactly what the wearables market, which is struggling to attract consumer attention despite its popularity with technology companies and venture capitalists, needs to convince consumers that it's not a fad.
I argued something similar when Ralph Lauren announced a smart polo shirt that can measure its wearer's heart rate, breathing stats, and movement just as the annual US Open started off. I compared the shirt to other wearable products, like the Whistle pet activity monitor, and their ability to attract consumer attention despite the apathy shown towards most other wearables:
These companies are demonstrating a core aspect of the wearables market: it’s better to make products that fit their owners — pun intended — than to make owners fit the product. People care about their pets, shoppers like cheap toys, and athletes obsess over their bodies. It doesn’t take much to get those consumers excited about something relevant to their interests.
Other companies approach the wearables problem from the other direction. Fitbit asks people if they want to monitor their health and pitches a product that does just that. Samsung asks smartphone owners if they want easier access to notifications or apps and offers a free smartwatch just in case. They’re trying to create consumer interest where it doesn’t exist. In this case, Swatch knows that people already want to wear its watches, and that it has a fair chance of convincing them to wear something that a technology company couldn't. It knows fashion, and if it can establish its tech cred faster than tech companies learn to make stylish products, its smartwatch might just be able to succeed where all those other devices have failed.
It might also show that apparel companies shouldn't get too cocky as the boundary between their market and the technology market continues to disappear. Even Ralph Lauren didn't develop the tech behind its smart polo -- it partnered with a Canadian company, Omsignal, to make all of the high-tech features it wanted to include in a shirt that it then designed itself.
The message is clear either way: apparel companies aren't just going to allow tech companies move in on their turf, and at least one of them is going to respond by trying to prove that it can add "smart" features to existing products before tech companies produce worthwhile wearables.
[illustration by Hallie Bateman]