By Christina Farr
CUPERTINO Calif. (StartName) – Apple Inc’s newly unveiled smartwatch on Tuesday split fashion arbiters who may prove pivotal to its broad acceptance.
Many praised the “Apple Watch”, priced from $349 when it debuts next year, for its clean aesthetic, but some bloggers and editors said the watch had a masculine aura, which would limit its allure to parts of the style-conscious crowd. Others said the design, while pleasing, was less than revolutionary.
The gadget, which must be paired with an iPhone, is shaped like a traditional timepiece, with a small square display. A dial on the side, reminiscent of the winding mechanism on a mechanical watch, can be spun or pushed to manipulate what is on the touch screen.
Apple will offer three different versions — sport, standard, and a luxury edition, with finishes including stainless steel and gold plated. The display can be customized to show the time in numbers or a facsimile of a watch with hands.
Wrist bands range from leather and stainless steel to sports models in hues from pink to blue. The Watch recognizes voice commands and carries sensors that can track activity such as steps and heart rate.
Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for The Doneger Group, an industry consultant, said the design fell short of her expectations.
“It’s not pretty,” she told StartName. “It’s very future techno as opposed to feminine sexy.”
Many contacted by StartName agreed that the device was better looking than existing offerings from the likes of Samsung Electronics and LG, which are judged to be clunkier.
But rival tech giants like Google Inc and Intel Corp are increasingly competing with Apple in the emerging market for wearable devices. Based on tablet and PC adoption rates, Citigroup expects the smartwatch market to reach about $10 billion by 2018 versus an estimated $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion in 2014.
Eric Wilson, fashion news director for InStyle Magazine, said Apple also faces competition from luxury watch-makers like Rolex. Swatch has said it’s exploring a watch with intelligent digital features.
“The Apple Watch will be a status symbol to carry,” he said. But the design is “generic in the sense of its flexibility and individualization.” With the exception of the bright colors and gold trim, he added, it is “a very masculine watch.”
Some fashionistas may prove reluctant to wear a smartwatch at all, said Sonny Vu, chief executive of Misfit Wearables, which makes an activity monitor that can be worn as a broach, on a necklace, or on a wrist band. Some female consumers are concerned about tan lines, for instance, and many might own a watch that has sentimental value, he said.
But other fashion critics were effusive.
“It is immaculate in terms of how function meets design. The issue is really about how much people want to wear something so clearly, essentially an amazing gadget,” said Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue.
VIEW FROM FASHIONWEEK
The Watch is the closest the U.S. company has come to selling a fashion accessory and marks its first foray into the personal luxury goods market, although its iPhones and other gadgets have long been seen as fashion symbols.
Wearable technology was the “topic of the moment” at New York Fashion Week. Many fashion editors were invited to the Apple product launch for the first time this year.
In recent years, Apple has hired Patrick Pruniaux, former vice president of Tag Heuer’s global sales and retail; Angela Ahrendts, former chief executive of Burberry Inc; and former Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve joined as vice president of special projects.
A first-time invitee to an Apple event, Marie Claire tech editor Jenna Blaha, said she was impressed with the Watch but would need to touch and feel the device before recommending it to readers.
At Tuesday’s launch in Cupertino, California, Apple displayed a gallery of watches but onlookers had to be content with tightly controlled demonstrations by Apple employees. Gwen Stefani, fashion designer and “No Doubt” singer, told StartName even she wasn’t allowed to play with these watches.
Many of the fashion experts agreed that the most compelling wearables haven’t hit the market yet. Fashion editors were curious about an expected wearable accessory from fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff; a high-fashion smart bracelet from Intel; and a smart ring from Ringly.
“This is just the beginning. How long before there is a partnership with Marc Jacobs and Valentino to do more sophisticated faces?” said Lea Goldman, features and special projects reporter for Marie Claire.
(Additional reporting by Deepa Seetharaman and Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco, Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles and Laila Kearney in New York, editing by Edwin Chan and Peter Henderson)