In the tech world, to win you must innovate.
It’s a fast-paced, uber-crazy rat race, where each year, feature upon feature is piled onto new products dubbed the latest and greatest of tech.
Not everything makes sense, not everything practical or groundbreaking. But these headline features are what sells these products, and it gives us tech journalists something to write about.
But what if scaling back was even better than moving forward?
It’s an unconventional approach to product design, but one that might make sense in the smartwatch space and maybe even the tech world at large. More on that later.
I’ve owned and used many a smartwatch over the last two years, but nothing has really become a daily companion. Either charging becomes cumbersome, the need to be constantly connected drains my smartphone faster, or the novelty of owning one wears off.
If I didn’t write about tech for a living, I would think twice about buying a smartwatch knowing that unlike a traditional watch that I could theoretically pass down to my children, a smartwatch would be obsolete in a year, two at best.
Sure everything’s gotten better — watch designs, software, and hardware features like buttons, knobs, and rotating bezels that make it easier to interact with these smart devices are much improved.
But more than two years since the first Google-powered smartwatch was unveiled, and over a year since the release of the original Apple Watch, the smartwatch industry is still at a standstill.
Recently I was at the launch of Fossil Q smartwatches in the Philippines. I wasn’t particularly interested at first, but I own a few Fossil watches myself, and was curious to see how a traditional watchmaker would approach smartwatch design.
Unlike brands such as Apple, Samsung, and Motorola that are primarily tech companies, Fossil is a first and foremost a fashion brand.
It’s an easy fit. Usually smartwatches from any of the tech companies mentioned above come in two to three variants; Fossil’s new Android Wear-powered smartwatches — the Fossil Q Marshal and Q Wander — are available in a wide range of styles, as are Fossil’s traditional watches.
But what caught my attention was the Q Hybrid, which is unlike any other smartwatch that I’ve reviewed before. I was so smitten, that I’ve since gone ahead and purchased one of my own — mine is called the Fossil Q Crewmaster Hybrid, a nautical-inspired watch with a multi-colored face and black silicone strap.
Fossil refers to its Hybrid line as smartwatches, but they don’t fall into the usual model. They are, for all intents and purposes, traditional watches. They look just like any other Fossil watch; don’t have a touchscreen or an operating system, you don’t have to charge them at the end of every day (you replace the standard CR2430 batteries every six months), and you can’t use them to make calls or read text messages.
But they are smart in the sense that they can track your steps and sleep. They connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and sync with a smartphone app. And they can be programmed to vibrate when you get a notification — I’ve programmed my watch to vibrate only when I get important calls from loved ones.
My Hybrid watch also has an extra button that can be programmed to extend the functionality of my smartphone — like being able to play and skip music tracks, using it as a remote shutter button for taking photos, or having it make loud noises when it’s gone missing.
If you compare these features to any other smartwatch in my collection, there’s plenty the Fossil Q Hybrid can’t do, but that’s fine with me. In fact, maybe that’s exactly what makes the Fossil Q Hybrid an excellent idea.
Not everyone will agree, but perhaps this is what all smartwatches should be like.
In Manila, I sat down with Fossil APAC Merchandising Manager Justin Paxton.
He says, “Over the next couple of years, customers will eventually get to the point where they’re going to say, why does my watch only tell the time. There will be a point where customers will want smart features and expect it to be a standard.”
Perhaps that time has come. We want traditional watches and we want smart features, but we don’t need to have them all. We don’t need extra features at the cost of battery life, or the legacy of a watch that can last several lifetimes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for the latest and greatest tech — I’d still fawn over a super watch that can do it all. But as tech creeps into more aspects of daily life, maybe tech companies can learn a thing or two from outsiders like Fossil.
That innovation alone doesn’t sell a product. And that scaling back and just perfecting something already existing, makes for the best tech of all.