Yesterday, in the lead up to hotly anticipated Apple Watch launch, Jony Ive, the company's lead designer, reportedly claimed that Swiss watchmakers 'should be scared.'
Well, horologists need not panic. If Apple want to threaten Switzerland's centuries-long hegemony, they'll have to try an awful lot harder. While Apple's new wearable is undoubtedly slick, intelligent and designed to work with the iPhone, its dedication to function over beauty and traditional craftsmanship means that it falls short when compared to traditional luxury watches.
Today watches, in particular luxury watches, are rarely purchased because they tell the time. Your phone, computer and oven can do that for you. Luxury watch lovers purchase them for other reasons. They're collectors or appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of a unique and well-respected watch brand. With all the other time-tellers in the world today, the uselessness of an exquisite watch is somehow more alluring than ever in luxury circles.
Despite reports to the contrary, Swiss watch production has grown exponentially in recent years, the number of high-net-worths emerging from the developing markets has meant demand for luxury time pieces has doubled. Although the Apple Watch is undoubtedly cool and out-of-reach for many, it is not a luxury product, just a moderately expensive one. The big question for anyone contemplating an Apple Watch purchase, is what can it do?
Any smartwatch is ideal for fitness enthusiasts, and in this way Apple will undoubtedly be the leaders in this field. Runners will love the GPS technology combined with gyroscope and accelerometer. There will probably be some medical applications from the pick-ups on the caseback that can measure heartbeat etc, this information can be transmitted to a medical centre or other apps. The watch display can be changed from digital, analogue and chronograph, it also has an improved interface, with "taptic" technology that distinguishes between touch and taps.
For a smartwatch this is a beautiful product, with lots of personalisation. Lovely straps with simple magnetic closing devices. A slinky metal milanaise bracelet, a multilink metal bracelet with a well-designed closing system, a traditional leather strap and buckle, sports straps in waterproof elastomer. Straps can be changed using a simple system, and there are lots of colours and materials available.
The digital crown is an intelligent redevelopment of the watch crown. It provides a way of zooming into apps, maps and photos without having to use your fingers on the touchscreen, which is so small that two fingers would cover up most of it.
Cons (from a watch-lover's point of view)
The versions with gold case seem like a way of trying to tap into the luxury market by adding a bit of precious metal to the basic product. However this doesn't quite give this highly functional product the required extravagance to appeal at this level. It's basically a miniature iPhone strapped to the wrist, and a person who likes wearing a mechanical watch will probably never switch to the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch is great piece of wearable technology, it's expected to retail at about £220, which isn't extortionate. It's got all the makings of the Apple trademarks, clear screen, functionality, design and durability. But where it falters in luxury terms is that it doesn't offer any intangible values that create an aura of desirability. Until wealthy people stop spending money on beautiful things, Switzerland has nothing to worry about. Which ultimately, is good for Apple too.