Fashion has long marveled at the tech industry given its place in the zeitgeist and its financial might. And tech has come to realize that it would do well to sex things up and deliver its gadgetry with a little more style flair.
But the two have largely been ships in the night, passing, but not connecting. That finally seems to be changing with a growing string of smartwatch collaborations between brands including Fossil, Movado, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss, Montblanc, Guess, Diesel and TAG Heuer and Google, which is rolling out its Android Wear 2.0 operating system.
The smartwatch category fizzled late last year as consumers and manufacturers waited for updates from Google and Apple, which is expected to introduce more extensive changes to its Apple Watch, perhaps this year.
Apple is largely going it alone, making its own smartwatches and linking with select brands, such as Hermès, which provides handcrafted leather brands.
Google is casting a much broader net.
David Singleton, vice president of Android Engineering, was careful not to mention the competing Apple Watch in an interview, but his comments made clear the battle lines are drawn.
“When we took a look around the world of fashion and what people actually wear, what we realized was that a traditional technology approach, which is we what we describe as a one-size-fits-all approach….It really wasn’t going to work in this space,” Singleton said. “We all have a desire to express our own fashion, our own creativity and our own individuality through the things we wear and that carries over to technology. What we needed to do was not try to create a one-size-fits-all approach, but build an ecosystem of partners that would all deliver quite different and individual experiences to their existing and passionate customer bases.”
Ten watches were introduced on Android Wear in all of 2016 but that pace is quickening, with 20 new watches expected to be introduced for the platform by the end of Baselworld alone this year.
Singleton said Google’s move into smartwatches wasn’t driven by the competitive spirit as much as it was the result of a desire to follow technology trends where they lead and help consumers be informed and connected in their lives.
(The big tech companies also have a habit of covering the waterfront, dabbling not just in, say, search or smartphones, but toying with space elevators and self-driving cars as well as virtual reality, drones and artificial intelligence.)
There are still more questions than answers about exactly how the smartwatch market will develop, but Singleton said Google was starting to better understand the customer and updated its operating system accordingly.
“People use their smartwatches more during the week than they do during the weekend,” he said. “People have more urgent information needs during the week.”
In particular, smartwatches are being used to receive and send messages.
“The rate of interaction with messaging apps is just off the charts compared with everything else,” Singleton said.
Android Wear 2.0 offers more ways for users to handle messages, including a sketchpad that can be used to send emojis and a smart reply system that works to understand the context of a message and helps anticipate a user’s response as they input characters.
He also pointed to the calendar function that lets smartwatches, paired to an Android phone or an iPhone, display a user’s next meeting.
Singleton said the user-focused Google has found kindred spirits as it worked with fashion companies.
“They have a very, very clear picture of who their target customer, their loyal customer bases are and what those people care about,” he said.
And right now, they seem to care about getting a little more information on their wrist.
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