Within any group there will be its own language, its own slang, patois, words that become signifiers of belonging to it. Sometimes, terms are appropriated from other groups and joined, re-imagined or re-invented to mean something else. There is always the risk that the result can sound somewhat discordant, but as signifiers of what something is or what it is hoped or intended to be, the naming of things, especially in this age of ‘branding’, is important.
In the past few months there has been a small but loud flurry of activity in the watch world about the (coughs) fruit watch (trademark pending), about smart watches and how their rise will affect the traditional watch industry. Announcements such as the TAG/ Google/ Intel collaboration and the Frederique Constant/ Alpina Horological Smartwatch, to cite two examples, have been high profile entries into the ‘smart’ watch arena, with the latter’s name proudly staking a claim into this new territory.
However, there’s been another angle to this whole ‘wearable tech’ focus – what I shall call ‘add-ons’. Montblanc’s ‘e-watch’ (its ‘e’ prefix a guaranteed singifier of techiness) which was launched a few months ago, and IWC’s newly announced ‘Connect’ (#stayconnectedwithIWC as a new hashtag?) both focus on the strap, to which they add bits and pieces to create a ‘smartband’.
To approach it in a reverse fashion, IWC have just announced ‘IWC Connect’, a gadget that will be integrated into a watch strap. They will introduce it first with the Big Pilot but extend to their other non-dress watches. It appears, based on the scant information, that it will be an activity-based piece, Fitbit-like (similar to the activity tracking of the Breitling and Horological Smartwatch) and with wireless connectivity. All there is to date is a trailer, so make of it what you will in terms of whether it’s something you will pop on/ off different watches when you change straps.
IWC puts it thus “…is designed to give wearers control over certain devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) and provide fully fledged activity tracking. The idea behind this new innovation is to enable owners of IWC timepieces to control their connected environment directly from the wrist while also maintaining the integrity of a handcrafted mechanical timepiece.”
The Bluetooth-enabled Montblanc TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap was launched a few months ago. Unlike IWC’s integrated piece, the ‘smart’ component is in a steel case with rubber gaskets inside an interchangeable, adjustable leather carbon-treated strap. Functionality wise it has a vibrating alert function, allows for previews of emails, reading text messages, incoming call nofication, social media updates, calendar reminders, activity trackers, a remote conrol for your phone and camera, the ability to control the music on your phone, and the ability to find your watch or phone within a 30m radius, called Find-Me. Obviously it will depend on how heavily one use it, but it’s estimated that it will require recharging every five days or so, using a standard micro-USB cable, which works in its favour in terms of not having to hoick around an additional cable when travelling.
The e-Strap can connect with selected Android and iOS smartphones and can be fitted to other watches, but it’s designed specifically for the TimeWalker Urban Speed line, which comes in three models: the automatic, UTC with second time zone, and a three-hand chronograph. The e-Strap is available separately for €350 (US$418), and should fit 20mm to 22mm straps.
A ‘smart strap’ or add-on module means not having to have something on each wrist, for those of us who wear conventional watches, but the factors that potential consumers will take into account are varied – pricing, wrist real estate currently available, functionality of the watch/ module and to what extent this can be modified/ added to, comfort (with regards to protruding parts on straps), lifespan etc etc and so forth.
Whether or not this means a bifurcation between watch brands who will create watches with an integrated ‘smart’ component and those who will create wearable tech add-ons/ modules will be interesting to see unfold, but in the meantime, there are plenty of other things to put on our wrists.