Thursday 11 September 2014

Apple's foray into timepieces

The last decade is often seen as a time of gadgets. The doubling of computer memory every decade has led to a proliferation of high tech products in all aspects of modern life, be it in the kitchen or the fitness studio. There is one old style gadget however that so far has benefitted little from technology's march into the future. Wrist watches have been in terminal decline since computers entered our lives.

I cant remember when I last saw a person with one of those ostentatious marks of wealth slung around their wrist, although airport lounges seem to be populated with 'watch hut' shops more than ever. Perhaps, the ubiquity of those shops in airports is an inverse measure of the popularity of the product they offer. Paradoxically, it was the computer and its increased memory capacity that sounded the death knell for the wrist watch. As memory bearing chips became smaller, mobile phones took on all sorts of functions in our lives, and made watches largely redundant. That is, the watch that is simply a watch.

Multifunction watches have proliferated on the high tech consumer market but those watches are rarely for 'knowing the time'. The market stability that came with people's need to know the time on the go disappeared of course as watches changed their role. Whilst there was always a fashion element to wearing watches, now there is little else, except perhaps the occasional heart rate monitoring function. Loading watches with peripheral functions to 'telling the time' is however a fickle thing in consumer markets and tagging a product on something as fast moving as fashion or fitness crazes does not appear to me to be a reliable business strategy.

Apple, however, disagree and have just announced that they will launch a wrist watch that can do all sorts of things, above and beyond displaying the time. The question is whether or not this will capture people's imagination. There is no doubt that the fans of all things Apple (and I profess to be one of them) will constitute a sizeable pool of excited potential buyers for this watch. However, I am not quite certain that this will be enough to convince the wider public to fork out about $399 for something to be worn around their wrist for something that they essentially already carry in their pocket, their mobile phone.

Time to check out the Apple website? Apple's new wrist watch

What's complicating the picture is that Apple seems to think that, to boost its sell-factor, the watch should offer all sorts of functions for people who appear to spend most of their days running, swimming or sweating on a treadmill in a gym. This may well turn out to be a miscalculation. It may make for sexy adverts to have twenty-somethings run around in leafy suburbs in tight lycra but last time I checked, less than 3% of the population spend more than 2 hours per week working out.

But the main test for any gadget, as the BBC technology Rory Cellan-Jones correspondent wrote recently, is whether or not you would turn around if you had forgotten the thing at home. Whilst I just may do that for my mobile phone (bless the days though where I had the strength NOT to), I certainly wouldn't do that for a wrist watch. After all, if really in doubt about the time, if I listen carefully, I can still hear the churches announcing every quarter hour from the clock towers. Can you?

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