How smart is a smartwatch?

Innovation is a word which is – I think – very overused in the watch industry, and often incorrectly. For example, you will often see high-end watch manufacturers waxing lyrical about how their latest watch ‘pushes the boundaries of innovation’ whereas in fact the watch in question may use a mechanical movement, and despite being made in an unusual way, or to an unbelievably high standard of workmanship – will still not keep time as accurately as a watch with a quartz movement that may cost a fraction of the price.

High-end mechanical watches are certainly amazing things that many of us would love to own, but horological bells and whistles aside, they are not truly innovative. To me a watch has one basic primary function: To tell the time. If it can do this as accurately as possible, using a method which is different to everyone else, then I feel it can truly been called innovative. Quartz technology was one such innovation, which has been around for over 40 years. Now we’re beginning to see the next big innovation in the form of smartwatches. I have no doubt that we have only seen the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to this technology, and I am very excited to see what the future holds for manufacturers like Frederique Constant, TAG Heuer, and Mondaine, all of whom have developed watches with connected movements. I am also very pleased to see the emergence of smaller  operations like Kronaby.

Kronaby have been around for about 18 months and are based in Malmo, Sweden. Yes, you read that correctly – Sweden. Not exactly the traditional home of watch design, but then again, their watches aren’t what you’d call traditional either. Most of their team in Sweden worked together for around 15 years at Sony-Ericsson. They took their considerable sum of knowledge and – with the help of funding by a major investor – went into business for themselves. When a group of engineers is given free rein to design whatever they want without any limitation, you will tend to get some very interesting results, and they have not disappointed. Their watches work via Bluetooth in conjunction with a smartphone app developed completely in-house, which comes with a whole host of different functions (more than 12 at the time of writing), some of which are displayed on the dial, some are activated by pressing the crown, and some can be linked to one of the two pushers on the watch case.

I won’t list all the functions here (but check out the Kronaby website if you are interested). They range from counting your daily steps to taking a photo on your phone to (and I’m not even joking here) turning on your kettle…

While this all sounds very complicated, it’s really not. In fact, Kronaby’s vision is that these watches are a way to filter your everyday distractions, rather than become an additional one. Of course, going back to my earlier comment, the most important function a watch has is telling the time, and because the watch will update the time from a smartphone, which in turn updates itself from a satellite’s atomic clock, they are about as accurate as almost anybody could want.

Part of the reason I find this company so refreshing is that most of the designers and engineers don’t come from the watch industry, which means they are approaching things from a completely new perspective. The watches have a beautiful, clean build quality typical of Scandinavian design, but for me it is less about the look (although I have to say these watches are superb to look at) rather than the incredibly clever concept behind it. Fast-forward a few years and I see a very bright future for this technology. This, for me, is real innovation.

Ian Palmer – September 2017

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