We’ve beaten up Swatch a bit over the past couple of years for its stated rejection of the smartwatch business. The Swiss time giant is now taking a tentative step into that world with a connected activity watch built around (of all things) beach volleyball.
There’s a degree of method to that particular madness; Swatch is the lead sponsor of a global beach volleyball tour — part of its positioning of backing youth-oriented individual sports like surfing and freestyle skiing.
(Full disclosure: Swatch flew us — and a few other journalists — to Florida for the announcement. It made available executives including its global design director, U.S. brand manager, and its head of communications for formal interviews and extensive informal conversation.)
The Touch Zero One is the first of a series of five promised activity trackers. It’s technically very simple: a couple of accelerometers, in a rubber water-resistant casing with no buttons, Bluetooth connection to an app, and a touch-enabled monochrome LCD screen. It comes in about a half-dozen colors. It’s much less interesting for what it does than the director it signifies: Swatch, design director Carlo Giordanetti told us, is interested in building connected watches with limited functions for targeted applications.
A follow-on watch, Giordanetti said, will include gyroscopic sensors to track surfing, for instance. Another, for the Olympics, may include a GPS radio. Expect, too, that the companion apps will gain social features. They’re even talking about a watch that will track your cooking, although Giordanetti acknowledges with a smile that they’re still figuring that one out.
Power, Giordanetti said, is a top concern. Swatch watches aren’t rechargable, as a corporate mandate. The company will, however, replace the batteries for free if you bring the watch in to any of the ubiquitous Swatch stores anywhere in the world. Giordanetti said he expected the Zero One’s battery to last for up to 9 months; a gyro or GPS watch to have a much shorter battery life.
We suspect that it will be a cold day indeed when Swatch produces a general purpose smartwatch of a sort that will compete with Apple. Something akin to a lower-end Fitbit — only much prettier — is far more likely, and a Pebble analog is likelier still. The sticking point will be power: Swatch, unless current management has a fundamental change in heart, will not make a rechargeable watch. So whatever function a Swatch connected watch or smart watch will encompass, it will run for months off a replaceable watch battery.
“Swatch,” company officials point out, stands for “second watch.” Their emphasis is on decoration; you pick from among your Swatches that matches your mood or outfit. Think of picking from among your four or five Fitbits that go with your T-shirt of the day, and you have the crux of how Swatch thinks about this — and the many different thorns on the rose it would like to somehow grasp.