It’s safe to say that executives for Swiss watch companies slept soundly last night after seeing the debut of the Apple Watch. While many were hoping for a piece of luxury craftsmanship that would leave Switzerland scrambling, what Apple actually delivered was a square-shaped device that looks very bulky on your wrist. That said, this is no time for Swiss execs to get complacent — after all, that’s what Nokia and BlackBerry did just after the launch of the first-generation iPhone.
So why should Swiss watch companies fear the Apple Watch even though it poses no immediate threat to their business? For a few reasons.
- First, even though the Apple Watch’s overall design disappointed some people who were expecting a slimmer device with a more stylish round face like the one on the Moto 360, that doesn’t mean the Apple Watch’s design won’t get better over time. In fact, in case you haven’t noticed, one thing that Apple and its engineers have been exceptionally good at over the years has been making things lighter and thinner than we ever thought possible. The technology to build a slimmer, more attractive Apple Watch just isn’t there yet but when it does get there it will be right in Apple’s wheelhouse.
- Second, Apple has a secret weapon that Swiss watch manufacturers don’t: An incredibly talented community of developers who will take the platform that Apple gives them and design applications for it that will give the Apple Watch capabilities that Apple never even thought of. We saw this with the iPhone, we saw this with the iPad: Apps matter and Apple is smart enough to know that its developer community is one of its most valuable players.
- Third, Apple has another big weapon at its disposal: Millions of diehard fans who will gladly shell out cash to get the Apple Watch and who will evangelize it to others. Apple fanboys are easy to make fun of but their devotion to the brand is something that has been invaluable to Apple during its transformation from a has-been into the most valuable tech company in the world.
- Fourth, Apple isn’t the only brand you have to worry about: Motorola and LG have both come out with stylish smartwatches and they’re only going to get better as technology improves.
- And finally, while $349 sounds like a lot to pay for a watch, it’s still roughly half of Swiss watches’ average selling price that different estimates have pegged at between $685 and $739.
Let’s not kid ourselves: The Apple Watch and smartwatches in general aren’t going to be complete game changers like the iPhone was. That said, once both the Apple Watch and Android Wear watches become more popular, people who do buy watches will come to expect them to do much more than be just a fancy timepiece. If Apple can keep refining the Apple Watch’s design to the point where it’s at least comparable to Swiss watches in terms of style, then Swiss watch manufacturers will really be in trouble whether they want to admit it or not.