Why the Apple Watch versus Switzerland isn't the real battle

Focusing on the Apple Watch as a watch is missing the point.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

A supergroup made up of Intel, Google and Tag Heuer is working on a smartwatch with the aim of coming up with a device to rival the Apple Watch which goes on sale next month.

They're not the only ones - at the Baselworld watch fair last week there were a number of Swiss made smartwatches on display, combining a level of digital information gathering with elegant Swiss engineering.

Still, right now Apple's device is the one to beat, as it is likely to be the best attempt so far at building a smartwatch that people might actually buy and then keep using for more than a few weeks. It's about time too - the tech industry has been building them for long enough (see gallery below).

There's nothing wrong with trying to make gadgets stylish or elegant of course, but trying to compete with the 'watch' element of the Apple Watch may be missing the point.

While Apple has gone into exhaustive depth about the time-keeping abilities of the device, the Apple Watch isn't really a watch at all. It's a first-generation wearable computer that happens to tell the time.

Calling the Apple Watch a watch is like calling a MacBook Air a clock. Sure, you can use it to tell the time but it does a lot, lot more.

Apple has surely emphasised the time keeping capabilities "it keeps time within 50 milliseconds" because it's a lot easier to market a watch than a wrist-mounted system-on-a-chip powered wearable computer.

Similarly, while many critics have got very excited about the $17,000 Apple Watch 'Edition' model I don't think Apple is really looking to compete with the high-end Swiss watch market. That hefty price tag is more about making the Apple Watch Sport seem reasonable at $349 than it is about selling vast numbers of gold watches.

And - as many people have pointed out since the Apple Watch was even first rumoured - people just don't wear watches anymore.

For telling the time we have smartphones instead - the modern version of the pocket watch.

And just as miniaturisation and fashion saw the pocket watch replaced by the wristwatch, Apple is betting that at some point the smartwatch will replace the smartphone.

That's a pretty good bet, though it might not happen for quite a few years yet. The biggest question about smartwatches is timing: I'd expect the Apple Watch to be a companion device to the iPhone for at least the next three to five years before eventually going it alone.

So sure, the Apple Watch is a fashion play, and sure, it tells the time. And sure, the battery life is limited and for me at least it can't compete with the elegance of the best Swiss timepieces.

But plug it into the enormous Apple app ecosystem and longer term devices like this are going to be a remote control for your life, the way that you are recognised by and interact with other devces in your home and office, for example.

That is surely the real end-game for devices like this, not telling the time. As to whether it can succeed, watch this space.

Smartwatches through the ages, a gallery:

Apple Watch and beyond: The strange history of smartwatches, in pictures

Previously on Monday Morning Opener:

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