Well, I bet Dick Tracy's happy. That was my gut reaction upon seeing images of the just-unveiled line of Apple watches. That cartoon character's two-way wrist radio was the future of wearable technology circa the 1950s. And if that egg timer with straps is Apple's $349 Apple Watch, I don't care if it can make lattes or open my garage door, it's not going on my wrist -- as a wristwatch, anyway.
I'm currently in New York, where efforts at "wearable tech" are evident in everything from light-up LED lapels at New York Fashion Week to Ralph Lauren's introduction at the U.S. Open of a compression shirt crammed with biometric sensors. But here's the tension about wearable technology -- and why it has yet to advance beyond the stage of a 1950s cartoon strip (literally): It's simply too much "tech" and not enough "wearable."
----------- For the Record A previous version of this post mischaracterized Manhattan boutique Story as a "serial pop-up." It is a store with a long-term lease. ------------
Companies like Apple and Nike can roll out every manner of Fitbit, FuelBand or GoPro camera (yes, I'd call the head-mounted camera "wearable technology") and cater to any number of smaller niche audiences, but the real money -- and serious credibility within the fashion world -- will only come when all that technology is leveraged seamlessly into the existing architecture of a garment, a scarf or a wristwatch that doesn't look like a device.
The last piece of wearable technology to succeed with that strategy was the eyeglass business and see how long that took?
Of course it's not totally fair to pass judgment before one has the opportunity to feel the heft of the watch in the hand -- or the texture of the band or the curve of the case. But looking at the photos I can't help but wonder, with all the design ingenuity up in Cupertino, why the new Apple Watch has a very conspicuous, raised button on the right-hand side, evoking the notion of an old-fashioned watch crown.
It's used as a kind of mouse, but isn't Apple too sleek and streamlined for a clunky detail like that?
My guess is that the greater purpose is to serve as a nostalgic tug, a little something familiar from yesteryear as we go screaming headlong into the future.
And, while one of the functions illustrated on the Apple Watch screen images online is an analog watch face, that function has long been included in iPhones (not to mention myriad other mobile devices).
Apple will probably end up laughing all the way to the bank with this product launch. And who knows, I might even end up wearing one someday. And, while it's technically wearable technology, it won't be much more than that.
I might not have such a strong reaction if I hadn't just, days ago, seen the true possibilities for the category.
Story, a concept store here in Manhattan, is showcasing brands at the intersection of style and technology. A wristwatch in one of the cases was indistinguishable from the elegant analog timepieces you might see in any of the luxury boutiques on Rodeo Drive or Madison Avenue.
Designed in Paris, the Swiss-made timepiece, called the Withings Activité (which is launching worldwide exclusively at Story) is also a Bluetooth-connected health tracker that connects to iOS devices. A small hand -- that in a wristwatch of old might serve as a second hand or stopwatch -- keeps tracks of steps with additional data downloadable to your computer.
The only one who has a clue it's doing anything other than telling time is the wearer.
The Apple Watch, in short, may be wearable technology, but don't call it stylish wearable technology.
Here's a look at some social media reaction to the new watch: