On Tuesday, September 9, Apple unveiled what speculators had been buzzing about nonstop for a year: the iWatch. Or, as the world’s most valuable company decided to call it, the Apple Watch.
Some details were highlighted in pinpoint detail: the customized interface with a “constellation” of apps and a “digital crown,” as well as the materials used and the sizes and colours available. Other details of the Apple Watch were glossed over or ignored entirely: the full range of prices, battery life, an exact launch date.
The Apple Watch is a companion piece to the iPhone, designed to be most functional in the presence of Apple’s smartphone. It can stand alone, however, which validates it as a fitness tracker. The Apple Watch, then, is many things.
It’s going to be good. It might even be great.
But it is not a watch.
It’s been said already, perhaps most succinctly by Vitaliy Katsenelson in Institutional Investor: “Just because the Apple Watch sits on your wrist and tells time doesn’t make it a watch.”
This goes for all smartwatches. They are wearable technology, yes, and minicomputers, yes, and possibly even magical, yes, but they are not timepieces—and while they may suggest some form of status, they’re hardly fashion (though that part may change in coming years).
“From the design point of view you cannot say it’s a watch—more an iPhone for the wrist,” Alain Spinedi, chief executive of privately owned Montres Louis Erard SA, told the Wall Street Journal.
He is, of course, correct. It’s an iPhone for the wrist. An iPhone is not a watch. The wrist does not a watch make. Holding a bracelet to your ear does not make it a phone.
Apple customers who currently don empty wrists are apt to purchase the company’s watch, and why not? By all known measures it appears to be a worthy device. Those who have timepieces already, however, will likely be hesitant. After all, almost anyone wearing a watch in 2014 is not doing so to tell the time—that’s what their iPhone is for. They’re doing it for fashion, or perhaps the sentimental value of an inherited jewel—something no smartwatch boasts the longevity to become.
“People want special workmanship, lovely dials, all handcrafted, they want something that is unique to them,” Paul Herzog, who manages the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique on Zurich’s exclusive Bahnhofstrasse, told WSJ.
“This won’t create another crisis for the Swiss watch industry,” Jean-Claude Biver, a legendary figure among Swiss watchmakers, affirmed to the daily newspaper.
Time could prove Biver wrong. For now, all we can do is watch.