LAS VEGAS— Fossil Group ushered in a new range of smartwatches as the Consumer Electronics Show began here Tuesday. And the options showcased how brands can put their stamp on their own connected watches.
The company, which is unveiling new colors for several of its own watches, joined its Misfit brand and partners Skagen and Kate Spade New York in introducing additions to their wearables lineup. Misfit launched its latest hybrid watch, while the partners revealed their first full-fledged smartwatches.
The distinction matters. Smartwatches are more powerful devices that usually sport digital touch screens, capable of displaying more features and even animations. Hybrid watches are dead ringers for fully analogue wristwatches, but come with a select set of connected features — such as phone notifications, step tracking and music control — that’s usually conjured by physical buttons. Think of it as a halfway point or a bridge between classic timepieces and newfangled tech.
For Kate Spade, this progression is an opportunity to show more personality and connection to the brand. The three new watch models are variations on a singular look, all showcasing the fashion house’s signature scalloping detail, whether the customer chooses rose gold, yellow gold, black or soft vachetta leather straps, or a metal link band.
On the software side, the company put a lot of thought into the customer experience, even designing dial animations: The daisy animation shows petals falling away as the words “love me, love me not” alternate on-screen. Another shows a New York taxi driving off the side, for the woman on the go, and the “leading lady” option imagines the watch face as a woman’s face winking. This sense of femininity and fun fits in with the brand.
So does the inherent flexibility that comes with Android Wear devices. Google’s wearables platform offers plenty of watch apps and watch faces. But if the customer doesn’t want to fuss with all of that, she can let the built-in “choose your look” do the customization. The app asks a few questions about what she’s wearing and picks a watch face that works with her outfit.
“We just think it’s so great that after a few quick prompts, she can choose a background and a design that goes with the time of day, with her outfit color, the style of jewelry or her handbag color,” said Mary Beech, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Kate Spade New York. “We know our customer likes to mix and match frequently. It just gives you endless [options].”
But the daisy, taxi and winking faces may be the company’s favorites, and it plans to roll out even more animations every quarter, along with other extras. “We’re very excited that monogramming is coming out next, because our customer loves a monogram,” she added.
Where Kate Spade skews fun and whimsical, Skagen upheld its Danish design ethos with an edited, minimalistic look for its Falster smartwatch. In fact, details, like leather straps, rose gold and stainless-steel mesh bands are available in its traditional watch range.
“One of our goals with Skagen’s smartwatches is to make technology feel more familiar and approachable,” said creative director Frederik Thrane. “We do this by simplifying and editing our products, but also by humanizing the experience of using them.” The dial layouts and movements were crafted to create a calm, pleasant interaction without clutter or distractions.
It’s not all serious business, though. The watch brand added “mascot” Dan, a friendly guide that highlights the user’s personal goals, to “bring a daily smile to your face,’’ Thrane explained, adding, “We’ve strived to create unique dials only possible in digital, proving it’s not just what’s inside the watch that counts, but rather how you choose to use it.’’
Unlike the partners, Fossil’s Misfit stuck with hybrid watches with the Misfit Path, which is its smallest one yet. But this choice, too, makes sense. The former start-up made its mark with fitness and sleep trackers that boasted long battery life, thanks in part to skipping a digital display.
Battery life for hybrid watches is often measured in months, not hours. For instance, the rechargeable batteries in the Kate Spade watches last roughly a day, and Skagen’s longevity is roughly the same. For Falster, the company even simplified the dial, in part, to help spare the battery. But the Misfit Path lasts for six months on a replaceable battery. It doesn’t support features like the voice-powered Google Assistant or touch-screen inputs, as the others do, but that also means they can’t hammer its power consumption.
Fossil Group is responsible for the tech in all of these devices, and the wide range seems to signal a new stage of the smartwatch’s evolution. Fashion brands get to do what they do best — express themselves and be creative — with custom experiences, and their patrons get more choices based on their preferences and priorities.
The mix in Fossil’s wrist devices tells a similar tale, both in the watch category and in design. Hybrid watches Q Annette and Q Machine, as well as touch-screen smartwatches Q Venture and Q Explorist, all got new color ways. Fossil’s Michele brand unveiled a look for its hybrid watch, with two-tone rose and white alligator strap.
Greg McKelvey, Fossil Group’s chief strategy and digital officer, believes “wearables are changing watch trends — for the better.” From the company’s vantage point, consumer expectations for the whole wearables category is undergoing a transformation. He contended Fossil is leading the charge thanks to its winning formula: More design, more diversity, more brands — and more fashion.
“No other company in the world can do this,” he claimed. “The tremendous success of our wearables during the last two years demonstrates the market opportunity for fashion-first wearables and our brands are reaping the benefits.”
The scalloped smartwatch from Kate Spade New York opens for presale Jan. 9, with in-store and online availability coming in February. Skagen’s Falster retails for $275 to $295 and debuts this month. Misfit Path starts at $149.99 and will be available on its web site this spring.