If a major tech company did the same thing, the narrow timing would draw fire.
Apple released its fourth-generation iPad in November 2012 just eight months after releasing its third-generation tablet and reviewers fretted that owners would be irate to learn that, after less than a year, their sleek new devices were suddenly last-generation models. Smartphone makers know the scenario well. They set their launches to an annual timeline, typically alternating between incremental product updates and major releases every year. Often, the goal is to optimize sales of a given gadget before turning it into outdated wares.
But fashion doesn’t hew to that time frame. After all, it’s a business that makes waves every season and premieres new styles on an on-going basis.
”We don’t often talk about the difference in launching products as a fashion retail brand versus as a tech-first brand,” Steve Evans, executive vice president at Fossil Group, told WWD. “But we do acknowledge there is a difference, and one that provides us with great opportunity.”
Ultimately, Fossil thinks of its watches in terms of collections. It knows that wristwatch fans often indulge in multiple timepieces to suit different looks or moods. So the brand has no plans to replace 2100-supporting “Gen 4” Fossil Q Explorist HR or Venture HR watches, in favor of the Sport and its 3100 chipset, a company spokeswoman said. The new entry merely expands on the range of devices.
”Whether it’s traditional or smartwatches, we want to be the brand that is your accomplice to building a watch wardrobe — and to make that happen there should be choice and lots of it,” Evans said. “This launch of Fossil Sport is no different; we want our customers to have fun building their fashion-focused smartwatch wardrobe at an affordable price point.”
The new device will cost $255, which is reasonable these days. While the style will be sold online right away, select stores will have it in stock on Monday, and the product will also be on view in New York City at a Fossil Sport pop-up starting Friday.
Sport will come in a choice of six colorways, 18mm or 22mm interchangeable silicon straps in 28 color options, and two case sizes, at 41 and 43 mm. That casing is made from new materials — nylon and aluminum — to give it a lightweight feel that Fossil believes active users may appreciate over heavy stainless-steel watches.
Inside, the device comes with similar capabilities as the Gen 4 watches: Near Field Communication technology for mobile payments, stand-alone GPS and heart rate monitoring. It also has exclusive watch faces for activity goals, preloaded apps such as Spotify, and the latest Wear OS software, with Google’s swipe-friendly redesigned interface, deeper Google Assistant support and more mature Google Fit functions.
But unlike the 2100 chip-powered Fossil Q devices, the Sport runs Qualcomm’s battery-saving 3100 chipset. Turns out, that’s another point of distinction between the fashion and technology industries.
Tech critics point out that the overall performance of the 3100 and its predecessor are functionally the same, apart from the battery management features. But for Fossil, that longer life isn’t so easy to dismiss, not when it’s one of the top requests from its customers.
Fossil gave the Sport a bigger 350 mAh power cell and battery life of more than 24 hours, plus two extra days of use as a “dumb watch” for time-telling only. Even in this mode, it got a little smarter — the gizmo can still display color and show movement of the second hand. And when the juice runs out, it charges almost completely within one hour.
The implication is that a smartwatch doesn’t need a ton of features — it just needs the right features along with an attractive exterior. It is the epic battle between customer experience, style and usability against sheer hardware specs and cool, but half-baked functions. It is also a sort of dividing line between fashion’s priorities and those of technology.
Despite their differences — or, rather, because of them — tech companies have discovered that they have a lot to learn from the fashion sector. Both Google and Qualcomm have been deepening their relationships with companies like Montblanc, Fossil and others, taking in feedback from these brands and their customers to learn about their priorities.
“Over the last three years, Fossil and Qualcomm have collaborated closely to launch a series of products and have led the Wear OS by Google smartwatch segment,” said Pankaj Kedia, senior director of product marketing at Qualcomm. “The Fossil Sport smartwatch represents our best efforts yet made possible through the combination of Qualcomm’s world-class Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform and Fossil’s ingenious pulse of the evolving consumer needs.”
Maintaining those relationships will also be one of the top priorities of Stacey Burr, Google’s recently hired vice president of product management for Wear OS and Google Fit.
“If you just come at the equation from the standpoint of hardware or software or features or sensors, you may fall flat in terms of meeting all those other consumer expectations around,” she said, pointing to key questions such as, “What does this do for me? How does this device represent who I am? How does it fit into my lifestyle? How do I have a relationship with it?
“Just like I have a relationship with my favorite pair of jeans or the coat that I love and get compliments on every time I wear it,” Burr said. “This wearable space really requires you to think about the wearer and user in a very holistic way.”