Sunday, March 1, 2015

A "Smart Watch" that's Actually Smart

Okay pals and gals, there's been tons of talk about the "smart watch".  Some of it informed, some of it not so much.
Courtesy of Frederique Constant
This past Thursday evening, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse at a new platform for smart watches that just might have the opportunity to offer something that is actually, well, smart.

Courtesy of Frederique Constant
A little background - Peter Stas started thinking about creating a smart watch, and it was not really based on the "iPhone for the wrist".  He reached out to Philippe Kahn the CEO of Fullpower Technologies, who's "greatest hits" includes the invention of the camera phone.  In his "pitch" to Mr. Kahn, Mr. Stas set forth a very basic, very simple brief in terms of what would be wanted, needed and expected for this project.  The end result had to be a watch that:

1.  Had a minimum of 2+ years of batter life - just like current quartz watches.  The biggest challenge the raft of new smart watches faces is the need to re-charge the watch on a nightly basis.
2.  Could be termed as "Always on Time" - with the correct date as well to account for February and leap year, etc.
3.  Had a so-called "automatic cross timezone adjustment".  Meaning that just like your smart phone adjusts when you turn it on after landing in a new timezone, the watch would do the same thing.
4.  That it would not be chained to a single platform of smart phone - so this will work with both iOS and Android.
5.  That it offers a functionality that was referred to as "Quantified Self".  Now granted, this event did take place just across the bay from "The People's Republic of Berkeley", but this is not a new-age thing.  It is actually taking some of the most popular apps that people use in their daily lives to help promote better health.  The Quantified Self feature (at least in the pieces that were previewed) will monitor and track your sleep and evaluate it.  Think that sounds silly?  Well, you may think so but there are too many people out there using sleep analytic apps on their phones and tablets to dismiss it.  I personally would use this feature.  In addition it tracks physical activity not unlike a Fitbit.  
And I think we can all agree that this is an insanely popular item.  These are the first two pieces of "smart technology", and it is based on sane, rational market analysis.  If there are millions of Fitbits shipping as I write this, I think it is safe to say that this is technology that people want to have and presently use.
6.  A long term road map.  To paraphrase Mr. Stas's comments - we don't really know where the hell the future is going to take us, so it is important to establish a logical baseline, but then be ready to grow and evolve as the technology advances.
7.  "Eternal Beauty" - essentially to stay true to the traditional watch design, but one that can be updated and not need to be discarded after just a few years.
8.  Modular Electronics Always Updated - essentially that your MMT equipped smart watch will not become an ironic relic in a few years' time.  Much of the updating can take place virtually via cloud technology.  But also that the electronic components "under the hood" are modular, and therefore easily serviceable and replaceable.  Think that's no big deal?  Try getting your OMEGA watch serviced through OMEGA authorized service.  And that's just the time involved, think about those Texas Instruments watches from the 70s.  I had one of the first ones available.  It "lived" for about 2 weeks.  My father sent it for repair, and a brand new one was sent, which promptly died.  I have no idea what my grandfather paid for it, but suffice it to say that based on that experience my father stuck to his Mido.  Electronics and quartz technology have improved dramatically since those dark days.  But I couldn't help but think back upon that disappointing experience when Apple debuted their smart watch.  It is too much, more than you will ever use.  iWatch owners will not abandon their iPhone, or iPad for the watch.  But they will abandon their iWatch out of obsolescence.  But with the MMT platform, your beautiful timepiece will always be just that.  the "guts" will be the parts that if they become outdated will be replaced as part of a normal service interval.

Based upon these 8 requirements, a collaboration was born between Fullpower and what would come to be known as Union Horlogere Holdings began.  The result is the Manufacture Modules Technologies (MMT) platform.  And this is where it becomes interesting.  This is NOT an item just for Frederique Constant and Alpina.  It is a platform that will be made available to the watch making world at large.
Courtesy of Alpina
To that end both Frederique Constant and Alpina will be releasing watches with this technology.  In addition, the first "external"partner was announced - Mondaine.  Word around the campfire is that there will be more brand partnerships announced at BaselWorld.  

Courtesy of Alpina
Point of full disclosure - I am not a "tech" guy.  I still have a Filofax and always have a pen at the ready.  But I honestly feel that of all the smart watch ideas that have been floated so far, this one actually seems to be something that is practical and useful.  And the fact that this is intended to be a platform, it strips away the "one and done" problem that so many brands rushing to put out a smart watch will encounter.  I think that by making a "less is more" smart watch, Mr. Stas has reminded us of why he and Ms. Stas had so much success in breaking into the Swiss watch world where so many have failed before.   They picked an idea, they kept it simple, and they made sure it was adaptable.

For those of you out there crying foul, saying that this is a "bastardization" of a watch, consider some very salient points regarding the watch industry as a whole.  Per Mr. Stas's comments - there is currently a production annually of about 28 million watches.  60% of the world's total production takes place in Switzerland.  21 million of those watches are quartz.  So think about just that topic for a moment.  Despite what some dyed-in-the-wool, self-appointed experts will tell you - that it was mechanical watches that saved the Swiss industry, if we are being truly honest it was the SWATCH watch and the arrival of Mr. Hayek the Elder on the scene.  It was stripping away all of the many tiers and layers of the antiquated Swiss industry and simplifying it that saved the industry.  It was rationally adapting to the reality of quartz and learning to produce quartz pieces at competitive, rational prices that saved the industry.  

I personally do not think that mechanical watches will die, and I certainly don't believe that quartz watches will vanish.  And I would be less than forthcoming if I did not say that I think that the Apple Watch will be a player, but one that is tapping a completely different market.  The Apple Watch customer is not someone who will even care about these new MMT equipped watches.  That is the reality of the market place.

But I do think that in the same way that "team Stas" realized that there was an opportunity in the market for "affordable luxury", it seems that they have really looked into the smart watch market in a logical, pragmatic way and produced a smart watch that is actually SMART.

As with all new things, time will tell.

Here are the specs direct from Frederique Constant -

The Horological Smartwatch: the bridge between Silicon Valley and the Swiss watch industry
Powered by MotionX®, the Swiss Horological Smartwatches are capable of bi-directional communication with iPhone and Android apps. The Swiss Horological Smartwatch is the synthesis of high-tech innovation and traditional Swiss watch craftsmanship; it is the link (no pun intended) between modern and classic, and the bridge between Silicon Valley and Switzerland. There is no digital screen on the Swiss Horological Smartwatch. Instead, the beautiful laser cut hands on the watch dial display information in analog form. The Swiss Horological Smartwatches retain their natural classic beauty and can deliver the benefits of the quantified self, all without ever having to recharge a battery.
The first Swiss Horological Smartwatches will support the following functionality:
- Always-on time & date
- MotionX® activity tracking
- Sleeptracker® sleep monitoring
- Sleep cycle alarms
- Get-Active alerts
- Adaptive coaching
- 2+ years battery life
- MotionX® cloud backup and restore

The beautiful Swiss watch that you love to wear that is now smart and connected, powered by MotionX®
The MotionX patented sensor-fusion engine tracks activity and sleep patterns with high accuracy. Activity and sleep information is presented in real-time on the Swiss Horological Smartwatch using beautiful traditional analog dials. The Swiss Horological Smartwatch synchronizes automatically with applications on Apple and Android smartphones. On the iOS and Android apps, simple and easy-to-understand graphics highlight how much one has moved and slept during the day, week, or month. This data will assist users to better understanding themselves, and along with appropriate goal setting and intelligent coaching, will improve their well being. Better sleep and a more active lifestyle are widely recognized as simple, but effective, positive behavioral changes. The Swiss Horological Smartwatch now combines the features and functionality of the MotionX® technology platform with a luxury timepiece.
MMT (Manufacture Modules Technologies Sàrl) is a new Swiss joint venture formed by Fullpower Technologies, Inc. of Silicon Valley and the owners of the Frederique Constant Group. Its mission is to bring the MotionX-365® Horological Smartwatch Open Platform to the Swiss watch industry. Fullpower creates and licenses the schematic design, firmware, smartphone applications, and cloud infrastructure to MMT. MMT manages the development and production of Swiss watch movements (also referred to as modules) incorporating Fullpower’s technology, and licenses, and provides support for, the MotionX-365® Horological Smartwatch Platform to the Swiss watch industry. MMT’s headquarters are in Geneva.
Peter Stas quote: “We love working with Philippe Kahn and his team, their approach to technology craftsmanship very much matches our company culture. Our intense collaboration and combined strengths have enabled us to realize the super exciting Swiss Horological Smartwatch today, and will lead to so much more that is still to come. The Swiss Horological Smartwatches released today truly show the strength of our partnership.”
Philippe Kahn quote: “We looked for innovative partners in the Swiss watch industry to collaborate with. Peter’s efforts to develop his own high caliber product were unprecedented, so we immediately clicked and went to work to help reinvent the Swiss watch industry.”
Frederique Constant and Alpina will launch 10+ different Horological Smartwatch models in 2015 in styles for both ladies and gentlemen.
MMT’s initial partners are Frederique Constant, the Geneva based luxury watch manufacturer of classical watches; and Alpina, the Swiss sports watch manufacturer founded in 1883. These leading brands will offer 10+ different models in designer collections for both ladies and gentlemen, powered by MMT’s MotionX® technology platform, delivering 24/7 MotionX® activity tracking and sleep monitoring, with over two years battery life, and compatible with Apple and Android smartphones worldwide. Swiss Horological Smartwatch in styles for both ladies and gentlemen will be available in stores worldwide starting in June 2015.

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