Wednesday July 9 2014

Are we ready for smart watches?


By Mustafa Ziraba

For many watch lovers, Swiss mechanical movement is the gold standard. However, it is also staggeringly expensive. It is normal to spend thousands if not millions of shillings just to see “Swiss Made” on your wrist.
Encouraged by the phenomenal success of smartphones, global tech giants are now betting on internet-connected smart watches to be the next big thing. Last year, Samsung and Sony both launched smart watch products while Apple is rumoured to gate crush the party this year. Google is also about to begin production of its own smart watch, the Moto 360.

So what are smart watches all about?
Smartphones are probably one of the biggest inventions of the century. They have changed the way people communicate.
The idea of Internet everywhere and especially “being connected” everywhere is modifying even how people behave. Recently Samsung made a big move by launching the Galaxy gear watch.
Enjoying the popularity of the Galaxy range including the smartphone and tablet among a young audience, they are attempting to recruit on the watch side.
Evolutionary pressure is on smartphone manufacturers to move into the smart watch category. This is similar to the advent of smartphones and how they changed the personal computer market, forcing the likes of Apple and Microsoft into the mobile market.
The smart watch is having a similar effect, with some believing it to be the next logical step in mobile technology. Enter the smart watch.
Generically a smart watch is a device largely resembling a traditional watch and could be a stand-alone or connect to your phone via Bluetooth to display text messages, status updates, control your music playback, and run social applications etc.
When the technology matures expect to have voice recognition, fingerprint recognition and integrations with everyday things like cars, TVs etc.
Right now think of a miniaturised smartphone on your wrist albeit having much less functionality. Today the real value of any smart watch is the ability for it to notify you without requiring you to look at your smartphone.
The question is really around whether or not these smart watches shall replace the traditional mechanical watch.
Well, personally I do not see any smart watch regardless of holding its own when placed next to an Omega, Breitling, Tissot, TAG Heuer or Rolex.
If you are successful, you can probably afford to own both a luxury watch and a smart watch.
But a Swiss watch is a statement about yourself so other people can clearly see you’re classy and perhaps doing well. You don’t get the same “wow” factor with a smart watch, at least with those out today.

The competition
This is where Apple comes into play. Apple is the player many Swiss watch makers are seeing in their rear view mirrors. Apple, because of their rich pedigree with design, are expected to introduce a smart watch that will not only be seamlessly functional for its intended purpose but also have the wow factor and ability to flow right in a formal setting.
A number of compelling factors make a smart watch quite viable for instance, for the younger generation, smart phones are just cool, period. Then there is the convenience factor, if you are in a meeting and need to see who texted or used some basic wireless capability without pulling out your phone, you can do it.
Nevertheless, the technology is still in its early stages and the first run is bound to be plagued with issues and be limited in capabilities. Until there’s fundamental change in battery technology, charging is one more thing you always have to remember.
I believe it will be the low end brands that will be the most affected by the smart watch.
Why would a buyer be happy to buy another Casio which tells only the time, when for the same price or a little more, they can buy something more fun that connects to their phone and the entire world so to speak.
The smart watch and traditional watch shall conceivably be complementary, one or the other depending on the setting and activity.