Speaker 2014

Elizabeth PatonFashion and Luxury Correspondent, Financial Times

Smartwatches: the battle for the wrist

Elizabeth Paton is the Fashion and Luxury Correspondent for the Financial Times newspaper. She reports on corporate and market activity from across the fashion, luxury and broader retail and consumer worlds. She is based in New York. As well as being a regular contributor to the paper’s luxury blog Material World, she is a lead writer for the FT’s quarterly Watches & Jewellery special reports. She also writes features and interviews across all paper sectors on high-profile management figures from the industry. Prior to joining the FT in 2011, she was the assistant online editor at the Sunday Times Style magazine in London.

Report : Smartwatches: the battle for the wrist

The recent unveiling of the Apple Watch focused attention on smartwatches in general, and raised the issue of where they will fit into the watch market. One thing is for sure: they already have their place on the wrist. The question now being, whose? Speaking at the Forum de la Haute Horlogerie, Financial Times fashion and luxury correspondent Elizabeth Paton declared that smartwatches were out to “conquer the wrist”. Since the unveiling of the Apple Watch in early autumn, what some had written off as an epiphenomenon suddenly took on a whole new dimension. Credit where credit is due… when…

The recent unveiling of the Apple Watch focused attention on smartwatches in general, and raised the issue of where they will fit into the watch market. One thing is for sure: they already have their place on the wrist. The question now being, whose?

Speaking at the Forum de la Haute Horlogerie, Financial Times fashion and luxury correspondent Elizabeth Paton declared that smartwatches were out to “conquer the wrist”. Since the unveiling of the Apple Watch in early autumn, what some had written off as an epiphenomenon suddenly took on a whole new dimension. Credit where credit is due… when the Cupertino firm takes on a new market, as it did with mobile phones then tablets, it has shown it can move mountains. Does this include the Swiss Alps? Is Silicon Valley technology preparing to kick Swiss mechanical watches into touch? Naturally, the question has been fuelling debate in watch circles for weeks.

A $10 billion market

Elizabeth Paton couldn’t have been clearer: “To think that the advent of smartwatches signifies the end of Swiss watchmaking is totally absurd. These are two different products. They aren’t bought for the same reasons any more than they deliver the same functions. It would be equally mistaken to imagine that smartwatches will be nothing more than a flash in the pan, and for a very simple reason. They belong in an environment that has made connectivity a part of life, particularly among young people.” The journalist went on to quote CitiGroup’s forecast that the smartwatch market will soar to some ten billion dollars by 2018, i.e. in no time at all. With this much at stake, brands are lining up to feed the market: Pebble with its Steel, Motorola and the Moto360, Samsung with its Gear Live, Apple of course, and the latest contender, the Microsoft Band… and these are just the major launches for 2014.

As Elizabeth Paton pointed out, smartwatches also boast a price advantage which shouldn’t be underestimated. According to the same CitiGroup report, 40% of smartwatch buyers in the United States ranked price point as the most important attribute. “Ask American consumers if they’ve heard of smartwatches,” said Paton, “and two-thirds of them will answer yes, yet one in two Americans doesn’t wear a watch. The Apple Watch has doubtless raised awareness but even beyond this specific phenomenon, it’s likely that anyone considering putting something on their wrist in the future will be tempted by a smartwatch because it will meet their expectations in terms of functionality. Hence the warlike vocabulary when I talk about the battle for the wrist and defending territory.”

Staying connected

One of the defining factors of this “battle for the wrist” will be the consumption habits of Millennials, the under-30s who now account for the biggest slice of world population. Elizabeth Paton sketched a portrait of this important demographic as digital natives who are constantly on the alert for new markers which they can adopt as signs of social status. Millennials care intensely about personalisation and value loyalty above all. In particular, they are incapable of envisaging a world other than connected. The next time Hamlet makes his “to be or not to be online” soliloquy, what are the chances that Yorick’s skull has been replaced by a smartwatch?

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