Smartwatches Get a Luxury Brand Makeover at Baselworld 2017

POSTED BY James Moar
Baselworld 2017 is here, and it’s becoming more and more a smartwatch showcase, as more vendors offer up a multitude of smartwatches, from full-blown Android Wear devices to hybrid smartwatches, which apply minimal smarts to the watch itself, while maintaining traditional watch functionalities. We’re seeing more hybrid smartwatches arrive from Fossil, alongside new offerings from Fossil, TAG Heuer, and Guess, and new entrants Diesel and Gc. Michael Kors, already in the space, is pivoting to make all its watches have some degree of smart capability.

While the slew of Android Wear watches is refreshing, the display of hybrid watches is what is stealing the show. These watches bypass the key pain-point of battery life, with Fossil’s collection of hybrid smartwatches claiming a 6 month battery life from a traditional watch battery. That they aren’t too smart isn’t a concern for most of the Baselworld vendors, who are seeing any smart functions as a step up from a watch, rather than a step down from a smartphone, and sell enough high-end watches.

The combination of longer battery life and tolerance of higher prices both mean that luxury watch brands can find a way around the lack of clear use cases for smartwatches that tech companies have struggled with; these watches will be functional as luxury watches regardless of their smart capabilities. While the battery replacement is shorter than the multiple years expected from battery-powered analogue watches, it is still far superior to the days or weeks offered by most smartwatches running on rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which will ensure higher growth for this segment of the smartwatch market overall.

The price of smartwatches, typically above $200, is generally not a concern for luxury watchmakers, who have historically always worked in a low-volume, high-margin market with relatively conventional functionality. As a result, we have seen far more smartwatch activity from watchmakers over the last year than for most tech companies, who have been the main players in the smartwatch market for most of its existence. If Baselworld this year is any indication, this will continue to keep the smartwatch market going which Juniper Research’s latest smartwatch research, Smartwatches: Trends, Vendor Strategies & Forecasts 2017-2021, expects will reach over $21 billion by 2021.