One major problem the Swiss face is that they lack the resources to develop their own smartwatch platforms.
<b>PICTURES</b> TAG HEUER
The Swiss dominate the watch market, but it wasn’t always that way. The Swiss watch industry was almost wiped out in the 1970s, by the advent of inexpensive and accurate watches powered by quartz movements. This later became known as the Quartz Crisis. You would then think that the Swiss would be more wary about smartwatches, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
The Swiss seem half-hearted at best about smartwatches. Every year in March, the major Swiss watch brands gather at the Baselworld fair to show off their latest releases. There were a couple of new smartwatches this year, but nothing groundbreaking.
The only major Swiss watch brand to have embraced smartwatches is TAG Heuer. The company is a formidable force in the Swiss watch industry, but even TAG Heuer doesn’t have the resources to develop its own smartwatch platform. TAG Heuer’s CEO Jean-Claude Biver, who also heads the watch division at luxury conglomerate LVMH, said that smartwatches are niche. A key problem for them and other Swiss watch brands is finding suppliers to provide the small number of components they need. Biver also doesn’t believe that smartwatches are a fit for every Swiss company, as they don’t communicate the message brands want to send.
One major problem the Swiss face is that they lack the resources to develop their own smartwatch platforms. Instead, they rely on ready-made solutions like Google’s Wear OS or Manufacture Module Technologies’ (MMT) Horological Smartwatch Platform. The latter is a joint venture by Silicon Valley’s Fullpower Technologies, who helped develop the Jawbone UP24, and Union Horlogere Holdings, the parent company of Swiss watch brands Alpina and Frederique Constant. As a result, the Swiss are reliant on others to introduce new features. They can’t innovate and differentiate themselves in the same way that Apple, the runaway leader in smartwatches, can.
Depending on which report you read, Apple’s market share of the smartwatch market stands at around 50%. Even though Apple has kept the design of its Apple Watch identical since launch, they have consistently updated it every year. Last year’s Apple Watch Series 3 included a cellular version, which allows it to function more independently of the iPhone. Apple also released watchOS 4, which included numerous improvements. These included a better workout app, more detailed heart rate tracking and new watch faces.
With no rival that can or wants to compete at the same level, Apple is running away with the smartwatch market. And if smartwatches become our primary communicating device in the future, the Swiss watch industry could be in turmoil again. But this time, they can’t say they didn’t see it coming.
By Kenny Yeo