Why smartwatches should be fashion first, technology second

Last week, I was having a Twitter conversation with a friend and he said something that really struck me. 

We were talking smartwatches and my friend, Michael Bourret, said that while he's interested in idea of a smartwatch, he wasn't ready to take the plunge just yet.

Here's why:

I think we've already seen some debate about whether a smartwatch is a piece of fashion or a piece of technology (or some combination thereof), but that one tweet from Michael really got to the heart of the debate, in large part because it's a perfect encapsulation of how  people view a phone as compared to a watch.

In the smartphone world, the vast majority of people are ok with having the same device as just about everyone else because they know, at it's core, the phone is technology first and fashion second.

In the watch world, this is flipped on its head. A watch is, as Michael so perfectly puts it, a personal statement, something that tells the world about him. Watches are as much a piece of fashion as a pair of shoes, earrings, a coat or great handbag.

Don't get me wrong. There are many people who will be ok with buying an iWatch or Pebble or you-name-it-technology watch despite the ten people in that same subway car or restaurant that will have the same exact model.

But that doesn't mean those who are making smartwatches shouldn't forget what the many folks like Michael believe, that don't want a watch that is like their iPhone, with little differentiation whatsoever.

What approaches are smartwatch makers taking so far in the market to put their fashion foot forward? Below are some approaches I've observed so far: 

Technology-powered fashion

The good thing is smartwatch fashion can be assisted by technology. One way is simply by changing watchfaces. The early developer activity for the Pebble centered around watchfaces, and sites have even sprung up around Pebble watchfaces that practically elevate the watchface to artistic statement.


While the watch itself is the heart of the smartwatch, one easy way to change the overall look of the watch is with a different colored watch casing or watchband. Many of today's smartwatches such as the Pebble, Cookoo and others come with multiple color options, while others simply let you add your own band.

Give us a few SKUs

While many smartwatches have one basic model, some smartwatch vendors offer a couple basic models to accommodate different lifestyles. This is, in my opinion, a really good idea.

The MetaWatch is a good example here, offering an active lifestyle model in the Strata  and a more classic and refined model in the Frame. Same smartwatch technology under the hood, two models, and chances are the watchmaker has appealed to significantly more potential buyers than with a single model.

Ok, but Apple or Samsung will still sell lots of watches...

Sure they will. Massively successful personal technology companies like Apple and Samsung will always sell lots of whatever they bring to market. This includes watches, no matter if they have the same basic watch with no real differentiation or a full multi-model lineup.

But in the long run, I think those smartwatch vendors that win will understand that with anything people wear on their bodies, putting fashion as the first concern till ensure  greater market success long term by expanding the market beyond their core audience to the broader watch-wearing population who, like my friend Michael, see watches as a personal statement above a piece of technology.