- Apple's new smartwatch was designed to be a fashion accessory as well as a gadget
- It comes in two sizes, different finishes and has multiple slick strap options
- Apple is going up against huge watch companies and an industry that has been around for a century
- The device could be the next iPod or it could go the way of the Bluetooth headset
Ariel Adams loves watches.
He owns more than a hundred of them, sometimes changing into a different watch multiple times a day. He has even turned his horological passion into a full-time job reviewing watches.
Naturally, he is very excited for Apple's latest invention.
"As soon as the Apple Watch is available I will be adding it into my life, but in addition to mechanical watches," said Adams. "I will more than likely have to wear one on each wrist."
Unfortunately for Apple, most people will only wear one watch. The question is, will they choose the Apple Watch over a classic timepiece?
After three years of development, Apple finally gave the world a look at its new smartwatch on Tuesday. It won't be available until early next year, but the design is final. Whatever the reviews, it's guaranteed that Apple fans will camp out in line for one, and early-adopters and watch lovers like Adams will gladly drop $349 to slip it on.
But to succeed, the Apple Watch will also have to appeal to regular people as a fashion accessory. The company has hired and collaborated with big names from the fashion industry, including watch designers like Marc Newson, Burberry's Angela Ahrendts and Yves Saint Laurent's Paul Deneve. Those fashion bona fides will help Apple's watch appeal to people who see the item as a fashion statement.
Traditional watches are big business. Last year, watches were an $8.3 billion industry in the U.S., according to Euromonitor. Most watches sold are sub-$150 quartz watches, but $1,000 and up luxury mechanical watches from brands like Rolex, Omega and Louis Vuitton have been surging in popularity.
"Watches, unlike other consumer electronics, have existed for hundreds of years as accessories and fashion pieces," said Tim Barrett, a research analyst at Euromonitor.
The smartwatch industry is a relative newborn. Only 750,000 smartwatches were sold in the U.S. in 2013, compared to 123 million smartphones and 32 million regular watches, according Barrett. So far, the most popular smartwatch is the Pebble, which got its start on Kickstarter. Smartwatches from companies like Samsung, Sony and LG have been plagued by clunky, large screens and glitchy software.
"Apple is definitely in the business of making markets as opposed to breaking into them, and this market has yet to be made," said Barrett.
The heart of the Apple Watch is a square touchscreen with rounded corners that comes in different metal finishes, including 18 carat gold. The watch face fits on classic watch straps that come in a range of styles, from sporty and colorful to high-end leather with metal clasps. The face of the watch is customizable and can display the time in a number of analog or digital designs. The final product is a typically Apple design: clean with a kick of personality.
"I don't think it will replace the traditional timepiece, but I do think it is the most aesthetically pleasing wearable that has come to market to date," said Eugene Tong, style director at Details magazine. "I would wear it, but probably not every day."
Apple has smartly included styles and a smaller watch face size to appeal specifically to women, a group mostly shut out by the gigantic smartwatch screens already on the market.
"Right now in fashion, a lot of women are dressing down, more casually and simply," said Danielle Prescod, fashion editor for Elle.com. "There is a movement happening toward 'normcore.' ... Something like the Apple watch, that looks great but also has a purpose, is perfect for this trend."
Prescod doesn't usually wear watches, but said she would consider this one.
"The good thing about the Apple watch is that it's super buzzy right now so people will notice it without needing a ton of other accessories that might try to compete for the spotlight," said Prescod.
No matter how useful it is, once a wearable device is written off as un-cool, it marks the wearer as dorky. Not everyone believes the Apple Watch can avoid the stigma of a Bluetooth headset -- or even Google Glass.
"The Apple Watch is the ultimate in geek chic, designed to look like a watch, but it leaves something to be desired when it comes to reflecting personal style," said Tyson White, vice president of product at Nixon, a trendy California watch company. It "will certainly raise people's expectations about what a watch can do. ... But it appears to compete more with the likes of Fitbit, Fuel band and other smartwatch offerings, more so than traditional watches."
Beyond looks, Apple will also have to overcome a limited battery life and dependence on the iPhone. But if any technology company has a chance of stealing precious wrist real estate from established watch companies, it's Apple.