HODINKEE is a comprehensive, award-winning online magazine covering wristwatches of a particularly high quality. They have an app on iTunes. The author of a new HODINKEE article, Jack Forster, has been a mechanical watch enthusiast for over three decades; he's been covering them professionally for the last 20 years. Before joining HODINKEE, he was first the technical editor, and then the editor-in-chief, of Revolution Magazine. He is also the author of "Cartier: Time Art," a comprehensive look at the timepieces of the French design house. One month ago, he put an Apple Watch on his wrist, and hasn't taken it off since. Nobody is more surprised than he is.
His elevator speech about smartwatches used to go like this: they're like flying cars. The flying car seems like a great idea. But in reality, it's an absolutely awful idea. It's inherently flawed, as a concept, and that's the reason they're probably never going to exist. Smartwatches always seemed to me to be the flying cars of the wearable tech world. He never thought that Apple would succeed in pulling off creating a user experience as different from the iPhone as the iPhone was different from preceding smartphones. There were smartwatches before the Apple Watch, just as there were smartphones before the iPhone, and He's still not sure they've succeeded in making something as revolutionary as the iPhone or iPod were. With smartwatches in general, success is still a rarity; there are many that are about as sexy as a traffic accident. But now we know it can happen.
Forster thinks that the Apple Watch is winning the smartwatch wars right now for several reasons. Firstly it has a better UI experience and its ability to keep your phone in your pocket, and your head up, is another. Forster adds that he had struggled to find Android Wear compelling, in any form at this point in time.
Forster further noted that one of Apple Watch's best secrets is this: it shows every indication of having been made by people who love and understand watches, and who know that for any kind of wearable to succeed it has to be 'love at first sight.' And that's why it's not only a threat to other smartwatches, but to mechanical watchmaking.
It's a truism in watchmaking that the face sells the watch, but that truism is based on something bigger, which is that for something you're going to have on your skin all day, you decide in microseconds, and with your heart, not your head, whether it's for you. He's used the word "seduced" several times in writing about Apple Watch, because its ability to be instantly seductive is the reason you give everything else about it a chance. The Apple Watch is seductive; Google Glass was not, and the rest is history.
It's hard to say where the Apple Watch goes from here, Forster notes, but then, when the iPhone first came out it seemed to a lot of folks like a cute toy that would never be a part of people's lives the way their Blackberries were. Forster recounts years ago that a Swiss watch executive told him with absolute, dismissive confidence, that the "The Blackberry is a real tool. The iPhone is a toy for my wife." He often wonders about that judgement call in hindsight.
For people who love mechanical watches, the Apple Watch is both unimportant and important. It's unimportant because what it offers really is totally different from the pleasure you get from a great tool watch with an amazing history, like the Sub or the Speedmaster, or the connection you get to a fusion of aesthetics, mechanics, and craftsmanship from something like a Patek or Lange. But that's also why it's important. And it's also why, even for luxury watchmaking, it is a little dangerous.
In the end, Forster notes that Apple has actually succeeded in doing with the Apple Watch what they did with the iPhone: inventing a new experience. Whether that experience is one ultimately more compelling than the one offered by mechanical watches, nobody knows for sure at the moment.
Yet what he doesn't think the luxury watch world can afford is complacency. If it fails to realize that what the Apple Watch actually offers is not competition, but a convincing alternative experience – and if it doesn't take the hint that luxury is ultimately about attention to detail, not marketing or price point – it could be in serious trouble.