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How the Apple Watch changed the world

Posted by | Android, Apple, apple inc, apple store, Apple Watch, ceo, fda, fitbit, Gadgets, Garmin, Jony, jony ive, lvmh, medical technology, montblanc, mp3, Nixon, Pinterest, steel, swatch group, switzerland, TC, technology, United States, vp, Wearables | No Comments

In 2015 Switzerland was fucked. This blunt belief, grunted out by Apple’s Jony Ive and repeated by the media as a death knell for the watch industry, seemed to define a sad truth: that the Swiss watch was dead and Apple pulled the trigger.

Now, three years and four Apple Watches later, was Ive right? Did Apple change the world? And, most importantly, did Switzerland survive?

Yes, but…

As you might have noticed, the Swiss watch industry is still standing. The major Swiss houses — LVMH, Richemont and Swatch Group — are seeing a major uptick in sales, especially in the U.S. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, sales are up 5.5 percent year-over-year, a bit of news that was, amusingly, almost buried by the onslaught of Apple Watch Series 4 reviews.

This increase of U.S. sales bucked a major trend this year, and one market insider, who preferred to remained anonymous, noted that all of his sales contacts are seeing increased sales in the $3,000 and above watch category. While the low-cost fashion watches were, as he said, “decimated,” the luxury market is growing. But why?

According to Swatch Group, Swiss watch exports rose 4.8 percent compared with last year and, according to a Reuters report, “first-quarter watch exports rose 10.1 percent, the highest quarterly growth rate since mid-2012, according to figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.”

“You know we saw an end of the year that was very strong — double-digit growth — and now it continues, so every month is a record month for us,” Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek told CNBC. In short, the industry is back from an all-time low after the recession.

Watch analysts believe that Apple created a halo effect. Of the millions of people who bought and wore an Apple Watch, a majority had never worn or thought about wearing a watch. Once they tried the Apple Watch, however, and outfitted it with leather bands, fancy Milanese loops and outfit-matching colors, the attitude changed. If wearing watches is so fun and expressive, why not try other, more storied pieces? The numbers are hard to find (watchmakers are notoriously secretive), but I’ve found that my own watch-obsessives site, WristWatchReview, saw a solid uptick in traffic in 2015, one that continued, for the most part, into 2018. One year, 2017, was considerably lower because my server was failing almost constantly.

What does this mean for the watch? First, it means that, like vinyl, a new group of obsessives are taking up the collector’s mantle after discovering the implicit value of more modern forms of the same thing. An Apple Watch is a gateway drug to a Tissot which is a gateway drug to a classic tropical Rolex Submariner on a signed band, just as your first Radiohead MP3 leads to buying a turntable, an amp, a Grado cartridge and a pressing of Moon Shaped Pool.

“In high school I wore a pebble for a while,” said Brady, a 20-year-old college sophomore I spoke to. “As an easily distracted high school student, even though this wearable was very primitive tech, it consumed a lot of my attention when it wasn’t appropriate to be on my phone — which meant also not appropriate to be on my watch. I then shifted to Nixon quartz ‘fashion watches’ and I was happy knowing they kept good reliable time. Then I got a Seiko SNK805 automatic. I don’t have a single non-mechanical watch due to my respect for the craftsmanship!”

Wearables are changing, as well, pushing regular watches back into the spotlight. As Jon Speer, VP at Greenlight.Guru, said, most wearables won’t look like watches in the next few years.

“I predict the next generation of wearables to blur the lines between tech accessory and medical device. These ‘devices’ will include capabilities such as measuring blood pressure, blood sugar, body temperature and more,” he said. “The FDA is working closely with industry partners to identify common roadblocks to innovation. The De Novo Program, the classification Apple pursued for the Apple Watch, is the category for medical devices that don’t fall within an existing classification. As we blend medical technology with consumer technology, I foresee the De Novo program being utilized by companies such as Fitbit and Garmin. As a consumer, I’m very excited for the potential and advancements.”

Thus the habit of wearing a watch might stick even as the originators of that habit — a little square of steel and glass strapped to your wrist — disappears.

Could it all be a mirage?

The new Apple Watch is very positively reviewed and Android Wear — as evidenced by companies like Montblanc selling very capable and fashion-forward smartwatches — is still a force to be reckoned with. Further, not everyone falls back into watch wearing after trying out the thing Jony Ive said would fuck Switzerland.

Watches are an acquired taste like craft beers, artisanal teas and other Pinterest -ready pursuits. Sometimes simply strapping one to your wrist isn’t enough.

“I got the first-gen Apple Watch,” said entrepreneur David Berkowitz. “I loved it, and then I stopped wearing it a bit. As I did, I lost the charger and never bothered replacing it. I haven’t worn it since and haven’t seriously considered getting a new one.”

“I’m just not that customer,” he said.

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Digging deeper into smart speakers reveals two clear paths

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, amazon alexa, Amazon Echo, Apple, artificial intelligence, Assistant, Ben Einstein, computing, echo, Gadgets, Google, Google Assistant, ring, smart speaker, smart speakers, Sonos, sonos one, Speaker, Spotify, steel, TC, technology | No Comments

In a truly fascinating exploration into two smart speakers – the Sonos One and the Amazon Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices.

The post is well worth a full read but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The Sonos One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second.

“Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes.

The Amazon Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make.

Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part.

Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for 15 years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers.

Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference.

Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases smart technology while Amazon and Google (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre.

On the flip side Amazon, Apple, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose.

Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a hockey puck that probably costs less than the entire bill of materials for the Amazon Echo it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers.

Whether the coming Sonos IPO will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.

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