Earlier this month, I was sitting in a conventional conference room in Google’s New York office, complete with the standard movable whiteboard, an oblong gray table, a conference phone and an intercom system.
This, however, was not the standard product briefing.
Roughly two-dozen smartwatches sat on the table, bearing the names of trendy brands such as Tag Heuer and Movado. Yes, Google’s head of Android Wear was in the room, but so were six sharply dressed representatives from the fashion world. The watches came in different materials, bands and, most importantly, sizes.
Android Wear goes for chic fashion in its second act
Google’s partnering with brands like Michael Kors and Movado to up its cred on the runway.
by Roger Cheng 1:45 Close Drag Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF
The message was clear: Android Wear isn’t just about geek, its new focus is on chic.
Consider this a second act for Android Wear, which has struggled since it came out of the gate three years ago at the Google I/O developer conference. Though people are starting to warm up to smartwatches, the ones they’re buying are the Apple Watch or Samsung’s Tizen-powered Gear S watches. Android Wear is missing out. Its most successful partner, Motorola, stopped making watches.
As result, the usual Android partners like Samsung and LG were nowhere to be found at the briefing. In their place were brands you’re likely to see at a Macy’s, from Emporio Armani to Michael Kors.
For David Singleton, who leads the Android Wear team for Google, the plethora of watches on the table were part of Android’s philosophy to create different products that fit your unique tastes.
“It’s really cool to be sitting here … and really see that diversity we were aiming for really come to life,” he said in an interview.
It’s no coincidence Google is opting for a more couture makeover. Its partnership with the Fossil Group, which makes watches for Michael Kors, Emporio Armani and Diesel, is one of its rare bright spots.
Fossil was the largest seller of Android Wear watches in the first quarter, according to IDC. Still, it made up only 5.7 percent of the global market, with Garmin and Samsung, which both use their own operating systems, ahead of it. Leading the pack was Apple, which makes up more than half the sale of smartwatches.
Still, Hannah Liu, director of wearables at Fossil, said she was seeing “hockey stick” level growth in smartwatches (which is admittedly easy when you’re starting from zero).
And boy, are its customers obsessed with their watch faces. Liu said that over a 30-day period, Michael Kors smartwatch owners changed the face more than a million times.
That’s why the array of watches on the table not only had a wide variety of different looks, they all had some custom aspect to the watch face as well. One Michael Kors watch had a unique face that pulled up photos from your Facebook or Instagram feed. A Fossil watch let you tweak the colors and look of the face, and share it with friends through a special code so other Fossil wearers could share in the look.
“If you’ve ever been in a ‘bride tribe,’ you know that would be useful,” Liu said.
Addressing an early issue with bulky smartwatches, Liu added that the new collection includes smaller sizes to better accommodate female shoppers and consumers in the Asia-Pacific region.