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The Swiss Watch Industry Should Double Down on Mechanical Watches

Jean-Louis Gassée penned a good column a few weeks ago on the Swatch Group making their own watch OS:

Nick Hayek’s father triumphed against Japanese quartz watch makers by playing on his own turf. Trying to defeat the established smartwatch players by playing their game won’t work. Is there something in Swatch Group’s culture that predisposes it to be competitive with Google and Apple software engineers?

Just as Nokia should have embraced Android in 2010, riding on its proven combination of Design, Supply Chain, and Carrier Distribution prowess to keep a leading role in the smartphone revolution, Swatch could use its native — but circumscribed — cultural and technical skills to create beautiful, fun smartwatches … that run on Google’s software. But just like Nokia’s culture and success prevented it from seizing the Android moment, similar factors will keep Swatch from being a powerful player in the smartwatch world.

I agree. If the Swatch Group wants to make smartwatches, they should almost certainly go with Android Wear, and they’re almost certainly doomed with their pre-announced homegrown OS. And it’s crazy that even if they succeed at creating their own OS, that they think it won’t need frequent updates and bug fixes. That’s not how computer platforms work, and make no mistake, smartwatches are computer platforms.

But I think the Swiss watch industry would do well to stick to their mechanical guns. They should leave it to computerized gadgeteers to make smartwatches, and focus on making mechanical watches that stand the test of time (no pun intended). I love computers (duh), but I find mechanical watches to be a source of joy, a bulwark against the ever-encroaching computerization of everything.

The bread and butter for high-end watch companies are aficionados who own multiple watches. Almost no one uses multiple smartwatches. People might have old ones in a drawer, but just as with with phones, it’s only convenient to have one smartwatch in active use at a time. Apple knows this: that’s why they made it so easy to swap straps — multiple looks for variety, but just one watch. For watch fans who actually do want multiple watches and a smartwatch, every watch other than their one smartwatch is likely to be a mechanical.

I don’t think the Swiss watch industry has a chance of out-computer-engineering Apple. Instead they should focus on what they’ve always done: designing and making great mechanical watches — creating a breath of analog fresh air in an ever-more-digitized world.