The Apple Watch is marketed like no other tech product before it. Despite prices reaching a Rolex, it manages to take a typically timeless accessory, the wrist watch, and bring it into the highly profitable world of quickly forgotten, replaceable goods.
Fashion writer Jess Cartner-Morley concluded her Apple Watch review on The Guardian with this:
I already have a watch that I love. It’s a 1960s Longines that belonged to a great-great uncle, and after 50 years it still works perfectly. Taking that off in favour of this – with all the built-in obsolescence of this kind of technology – feels like a strange sort of progress.
No matter how beautiful and functional smart watches get, the moment a model is announced, the clock starts ticking down 12 months to the next one. Most of the time in tech, this consumption cycle brings better battery life, crisper screens, and faster processors crammed into prettier gadgets. Analog wrist watches are the one tech gadget that never goes obsolete and one of the few fashion items that never goes in or out of style. Anyone, even someone who never before wore a watch, can appreciate a 50-year-old timepiece passed down to them from a family member. They’re one of the few heirlooms that descendants regularly expose to the light of day. An aging marvel with emotional attachment has mechanical gears that will continue functioning timelessly, and like a good pair of boots, can be repaired by a rustic local artisan. No other tech or fashion product can easily claim these sentimental aspects.
Apple’s marketing on the Watch works within the fast fashion world by using pop star celebrities and full page magazine ads. Apple has created by no means the only decent looking smart watch, but they are the first to understand how to sell a smart watch to the general public, not just early adopters that work in Silicon Valley. No other manufacturer even thought to make a smaller model for the 50% of people that on average spends 21% more money on apparel each year.
While the consumption cycle of an iPhone or MacBook is based on real life improvements in specs and features, fast fashion can’t be pragmatic to maximize profit. Fashion marketing places constantly changing clothes and accessories on attractive people. Viewing a magazine ad, you want to be the person wearing those Calvin Klein jeans in the latest cut, and now with a $17,000 gold Apple Watch on your wrist. If clothing trends didn’t change, our pursuit to be that ideal model might actually be fulfilled, stalling our consumption to how long the clothes actually last. Fashion cycles are in the days and weeks, which Apple will find hugely beneficial when the next model comes out. Slouching sales figures indicate the iPad is quite obverse to this. Better specs and a slightly lighter, thinner device aren’t enough to convince users to upgrade a device for Netflix and casual browsing regularly like 2 year contract-based iPhone users do. Outside of the tech community, there’s nothing more fashionable about owning the next iPad, unlike clothing trends. The second generation Apple Watch will be sold to current owners with both rational incentives and a stronger than ever emotional desire to upgrade.
Next March, we’ll see Pharrell Williams and Beyoncé once again rocking what the general public can’t have quite yet, and millions of first gen smart watches won’t be passed down as prized inheritance. Current Watch owners will uniquely have both rational incentives and an emotional desire to upgrade once those 12 months are up.
Eventually the digital practicality of wearables will win over the tight wrist real estate market, relegating their predecessors to the closet with all the other heirlooms. Smart watches will likely become a central part of our lives, just like the smartphone has in the past 8 years. Established watchmaker TAG Heuer released their own Android Wear device, accepting the ‘fate’ of having more frequently returning customers. Ticking gears will one day be seen the same way pocket watches are today, a nostalgic reminder of an intricate and artistic past in contrast to the utilitarian post-modern life. Or maybe fashion magazines will print dual-wielding models for the ultimate buying potential.
At least we’ve still got the pea coat.