Apple vs Switzerland: watch the competition of no contest

Apple Watch smartwatch
Apple Watch smartwatch

With the unveiling of Apple's first smartwatch, did you correctly guess the name? The world's attention is being drawn to another technology that's been reinvented for the modern age. It was back in the 1980's that smart watches first began to appear, though they weren't called this at the time.

They featured calculators or radios and were hugely popular, even with tiny buttons that required a pencil nib to press and LCD screens so small you'd need to squint to read them.

Putting smart in smart watch

In recent years, attempts to reinvent the smartwatch, from companies such as Pebble, have met with damp enthusiasm but health and fitness bands from the likes of FitBit and Jawbone have proved hugely popular and reinvigorated the public's enthusiasm for what can be done with a smartwatch.

Google and Samsung were first to jump into this new fledgling and uncertain market and so far the results look very promising indeed, with designers actually remembering that what they're selling is in fact a watch and not a teleportation bracelet from a 1970's science fiction serial. New advances too mean that while we may not yet be able to use them to call our car, I feel that's a feature not too far away.

But what is the market for smartwatches really? Recently Apple's chief designer Sir Jonathan Ive cheerfully claimed that Switzerland was in trouble… hmm.

Now I'm going to come clean here and say that I do own a Swiss watch, a Tissot T-Touch Expert. It has a sapphire crystal display that we're just beginning to see on phones, a touch screen, barometer, thermometer, altimeter, compass and a host of other features that occasionally prove useful. It's encased in lightweight titanium with a carbon-fibre face to further keep the weight down.

But why did I buy this watch two years ago when I could have bought a Pebble? Well, while some people do enjoy the convenience of instant email and text message alerts on their wrist, I have not always found reaching into my pocket and pulling out my phone a difficult experience.

Not the same market

For the Apple Watch to be successful it has to sell in huge numbers, and it likely will. But to do this it needs to be affordable (well affordable for an Apple product anyway) and mass produced. And it is precisely for these reasons why Tissot, Omega, Breitling and other Swiss watch manufacturers will not be quaking in their boots today.

Swiss watches are luxury items, expensive statements of excellence and precision, and are crafted from the finest quality materials. If they ever became mainstream items the whole term "Swiss watch" would lose its allure and charm forever. Smart watches must be mainstream however in order to survive, they must be charged every day and worn by geeks who want to show them off.

The day will likely never come when James Bond will trade his Omega Seamaster for an Apple Watch, despite Q's latest gadget push. Apple should be applauded, but they should remember where their market lies as I doubt neither James Bond nor Michael Knight will need a fitness app any time soon.