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Watch of the Future?

by J.Edwards

MIT Media Lab's WUWA forward looking article recently published on Wired’s Epicenter Blog, showcases some brand new R&D out of MIT’s Media Lab that is looking to evolve the functionality of today’s cellphones well beyond the benchmark set by Apple’s iPhone. Using a mashup of off-the-shelf hardware, including a webcam and small projector, the device is capable of recognizing hand gestures, text, and objects to call up relevant contextual information, manipulate data, and even project a virtual watch onto your wrist simply by drawing a circle on it with your forefinger.

Fewer and fewer young people today are wearing wristwatches, eschewing them for the convenience of their cellphones and iPods. While haute-horology may have seen a resurgence in recent years, as high-rolling executives who can’t parade their Jags in the boardroom choose to sport a Jaeger-LeCoultre instead, many watch companies (particularly in the middle-range) have been watching their margins slowly dwindle over the past decade as a result of the younger generations’ inclination towards multipurposed technology. Taking note of the changing tide, several watch companies have begun to segue into cellphone technology themselves. From simple caller-ID enabled wristwatches to full out cellphones like Tag Heuer’s Meridiist and Ulysse Nardin’s up-and-coming Chairman (to be unveiled at this year’s Baselworld Fair).

Unfortunately for Tag and Ulysse Nardin, if Pranav Mistry’s vision of our future “sixth-sense” is any indication of where the cellphone market is headed, their unreleased phones may already be as antiquated as the Unitas in my pocket watch. That said, while the notion of projecting a watch onto my wrist may be intriguing, I can’t say that I ever see myself preferring it to the kinesthetic pleasure and tactile wonder of a finely crafted, mechanical watch.

What are your thoughts?

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  1. Posted March 12, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    It is clear that marketing watches for practical use is in fact useless. The focus must be on fashion, art, and craftsmanship. A cell phone will never be handed down to the next generation with its built in obsolesence, cheap plastic, and uninspiring circuits.

  2. Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    I both agree and disagree with your statement that marketing watches for practical use is useless, Scott. From a time-only standpoint, it is absolutely useless to market watches for their practicality. There are some watches, however, by companies like Suunto and Polar, that I believe still hold their place as very practical tools. Even the Timex Ironman still holds its place as a practical wristwatch when it comes to athletics. Watches that are strictly used to tell the time, however, certainly do need to market themselves as being fashionable, artistic, and/or well crafted. I think that you touched on a particularly excellent point with regards to being able to pass a well made watch on from one generation to the next. Talk about the ultimate in sustainable, green design! I own two watches that were handed down to me from my grandfather, one of which has served as my daily watch for many years and I have only recently had to tuck it safely away in a drawer until I have the time to clean it and put it back into service again. I have no doubt – pending any catastrophic event – that I, too, will one day be able to pass these same watches on to my own children or grandchildren. The same could never be said of today’s consumer cellphones. The watch companies who are able to provide the best level of after sales service for their clients are the ones who, I believe, are best poised to stand firm through this current economic downturn.

  3. Posted March 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Hello Scott, J.E.
    Gentleman, may I remind you that upto the late 1980’s – 95% of all products made in Switzerland were made for a world public uniquely based on the practicalities, simple, time read only.
    It is with the advent of technologies such as computer generated, Internet based ideas, that Watchmaking has been able to evolve in directions completely unheard of in those days.
    Similarly too, people may seem crazy today with their unique idiosyncrasy and gadgetry- but the general public still has, in my very honest opinion, a generous leaning towards collecting and using objets d’Art and quite suitably the Swiss watch caters to that.
    Cheers for a very eye opening post,

  4. Posted March 13, 2009 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    I agree, Prem. There is still an unquestionably strong market for modern mechanical watches. Cellphones though, in my humble opinion, remain consumer items and are not objets d’art to be passed down from one generation to the next. Although I do know that very small community of cellphone “collectors” do exist, the vast majority of cellphones and other portable electronic devices have no appreciable value.

  5. wackyvorlon
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    It seems there is room for exploring pocket watches. Personally, I don’t like to wear wrist watches, I find them uncomfortable. This seems to be an area that is completely ignored by the modern watch industry.

  6. Posted August 15, 2009 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi Wackyvorlon,

    If high-tech pocket watches are something that piques your interest, you might like this post as well:

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