My grandpa had a stainless steel watch with a unique link band. I cannot say it was a particularly prestigious or a good looking watch; the link band was quite ordinary and the watch itself had nothing special. Grandpa always asked to stretch the spring, and I remember the cold feeling of the link band and the heavy weight of the watch in my hand. The pebble steel that was recently launched at CES reminded me of my grandfather’s clock; no uniqueness, an ordinary shape, a strap that seems to be taken for another millennium and a general feeling of boredom. And this boredom is maybe the best example for the adolescence of the wearables and their new role in our everyday life.
If we look at CES we can see that 2014 is the year of the wearables. It’s the hottest trend of the HW world and all the big fish are in. The halls in Las Vegas were flooded with smartwatches, activity trackers and wristbands that measured how we ate, slept and moved just to tell us later what we should do to be healthier, more productive, etc… Whether this are giants such as LG or Inter, startups like Pebble and MEMI or nameless Chinese players the promise is quite the same. Everything is shiny, new and promising but it seems that the total experience is far from being solved.
Google glass, Samsung gear and other product in the category are first of all technological accomplishments, but despite a very prominent design effort, they still look like gadgets that were forced to become accessories. The few of us that had the chance to actually use glass are immediately perceived as “early adaptors” in the better scenario and as techy, bizarre geeks in the worst one. Technology tends to frighten people and things we put on our body have to overcome this challenge in order to be accepted by the mass.
A garment, a jewel and even a pair of glasses are a personal and intimate pieces. We love the clothes that fit our bodies and represent our character and personal style. The wearables are trying to find their sweet spot on the route between techy gadgets and haute couture and our ability to find this spot is the true challenge. When the wearables will become trendy pieces of fashion they will be able to address bigger markets, blend better in our everyday life and create a real change.
MEMI’s founder Leslie Pearson tells that the biggest challenge their design team had to deal with is to make women to love and want their product even if it had done nothing. “I love that functionality of the wearables but hate the way they look. All the smart watches look like someone tries to but mount a mini smartphone on our wrist while in my opinion it should be completely the other way around. Our product is small and smart but first of all it is a piece of jewelry, not a techy gadget.
So what’s is that “nouvelle vogue” the pebble steel bring to the table? What’s so special about this boring and non-unique metal watch? The fact that we treat this product as a watch – and it’s good or bad styling is a matter of taste – is a real breakthrough. We’re not talking about the spec, the battery life, the screen size and the SDK but ask ourselves whether we like the material, discuss the selection of the link strap and refer to the general style of the watch. My personal opinion is that the watch is ugly, but it doesn’t matter. The shift of the discussion to the territory of style and fashion is an event that symbolizes more than anything that the wearables are here to stay.