Withings Activité – the analogue look of love

7.Withings_Activité_black_sideAmidst all the speculation about whether Apple will announce some kind of wearable device, health tech company Withings dropped a little bomb. The Withings Activité looks like exactly the sort of thing Jony Ive might come up with as a solution to the ugliness of silicone straps and digital readouts.

A while ago, I wondered about this whole Apple watch problem. Nobody wants a watch you have to charge up every day. A lot of people want a watch that looks good. None of the technology companies who have rushed to market with their watch designs have bothered to create anything beautiful. The Tom Tom Runner is a typical example. A clever package of technology built to a price (£250), it’s so ugly you’d only wear it while exercising, and it could certainly not live on your wrist all day (apparently, it has to be worn quite tight for the pulse monitor to work).

In my mind Apple wouldn’t want to associate themselves with something as ugly as that, nor even as ugly as the plainer silicon strap thingies, which have a reputation for poor build quality and unreliability. Apple also wouldn’t want to associate with something that was impractical. It’s bad enough that most of us have to charge our phones every day. To have to find some kind of USB socket or charging mat for your watch would be too much.

Watches fall into three categories for me.

1. Cheap and nasty – ranging from £10 – £150, designed to just tell the fucking time, or fit some kind of youthful fashion  – like Swatch back in the day or Ice nowadays.

2. Cheap-ish and tasteful – ranging from £50 – £400, this category would include my favourite design, the Mondaine, but also Braun, which might appeal to Jony Ive, what with his Dieter Rams fetish.

3. Unbelievably expensive chunks of ugly for cunts to wear in order to demonstrate what cunts they are. £5000, because you’re so not worth it.

Apple clearly won’t be making a wearable for category (3). Nor will they be chasing after the cheapskates at the bottom end. Leave those for Samsung and Google and the rest.

So Apple’s wearable, if it exists, will be aimed at category (2), but if I know my Jony Ive, it will not look like this. It’s going to either look like a Braun or a Mondaine. Apple have got form in stealing the classic look of the Mondaine. In a sane universe, they’d have been working closely with the Swiss company, this time licensing the look properly, and maybe even getting Mondaine to make the watch bit. Maybe not though, because Mondaine are quite proprietorial about their exclusive licence with Swiss Railways. So, if anything, Apple will go for the Braun look.

Enter Withings. The Withings Activité is so close to what I’ve been thinking Apple might do that it was a squirt-my-coffee-at-the-screen moment.

I’ve been humming and ha-ing about getting a Mondaine for ages. What stops me is (a) I don’t really need one and (b) I don’t really need one. If a Mondaine watch both told the time, had a standard watch battery (like the Activité does) that lasts a year and talks to an app on my iPhone, and costs less than £400…

Sold.

On the other hand, if Apple produce something that looks more like the Pebble or that Tom Tom thing…

I’m getting a Withings.

1.Withings_Activité_flagship_close-up

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Apple won’t really make a watch, will they?

Mondaine Watch
Mondaine Watch (Photo credit: dchurbuck)

Listening to the latest Talk Show podcast this morning as I was making bread, I was enjoying the speculation about what Apple might announce next week. Many possibilities, from new iPads to Mavericks and 4k displays were discussed, and particularly interesting were Mr Gruber’s thoughts on iPod Nano and/or Apple iWatch.

I had one of those square Nanos, and did indeed get a watch strap for it. I wore it as a watch for over a year, until the wake button failed, and since then I’ve just used it for music in the car. You can’t actually use it as a regular iPod any more, because you can’t wake it up from sleep. It has struck me since then that any attempt to make a “smart watch” would have to deal with such everyday issues.

The other thing about it was, people were always really impressed, with the whole idea. Especially young people. Personally, I found it a bit disappointing, but I was the one living with it. I didn’t like having to push a button to see the time, and although it would wake to the clock some of the time, quite often, it wouldn’t. So you had to faff about to get the time on the screen. Which kind of defeated the object. Also, you couldn’t really use it as an iPod while it was on your wrist without looking like a twat. And, of course, eventually all those button pushes led to hardware failure.

Still, the idea clearly attracts people. But as Mr Gruber pointed out, for the watch thing to take off, you’ve got to be making something that looks more attractive and elegant. And you’ve got to decide whether you’re in the “fine jewellery” business or the “high tech gadget” business. I found the Nano as a watch to be unwieldy: too large, too thick, and too prone to slide on the strap I bought. I’m coming from a position, by the way, of basically hating almost all watch designs, give or take those from Braun and Mondaine. (In a similar way, I can usually dismiss 98% of all the shoes in a shoe shop, or 90% of shirts and 95% of socks in clothing retailers.)

For a so-called smart watch to work as a watch, it needs to display the time all the time. I need to be able to glance at my wrist, not push a button. It’s not 1976, and we’re not Texas Instuments (I used to have one of those). And it needs to have a battery that lasts longer than a day. Which means it can’t really have an always-on display. Or a cellular radio, or a wifi radio. Even low-power Bluetooth might be pushing it.

If I was in charge of Apple, I wouldn’t want to be releasing something that was (a) ugly, (b) didn’t work very well as a watch, or (c) needed to be charged every day. I’d be knocked out if they solved all those problems.