Women account for 50 percent of the world population, and women’s watches now comprise about 35 percent of the luxury timepiece market. Yet the consumer electronics industry continues to pump out smartwatch designs geared mostly toward men.
It’s a strategy that the smartwatch manufacturers pursue at their own risk, executives from traditional timepiece companies say.
“The women’s market has more or less been completely ignored by smartwatch companies and I think that’s a big miss,” says Thierry Casias, Creative Director at Bulova.
“You should never disregard her. That’s a huge, huge mistake,” says Scott B. Wolfe, senior vice president of merchandising, design and product development at Citizen Watch. “She’s got as much power of the purse as he does. I also believe that she likes tech as much as he does, maybe with a little different approach. There is a marketplace for her, and you have to make it very aspirational, very trend-forward.”
First-generation smartwatches from Samsung, Sony and Qualcomm receive two common complaints from women: They look too nerdy – simply too sci-fi – and they’re way too big. I’ve repeatedly heard, “No, I would never wear that” when showing off smartwatches to the women in my life, but it’s possible the offensive design cues will diminish if a few developments click into place.
When it came out in 2013, the Samsung Galaxy Gear became the poster boy for nerdy, chunky aesthetics in smartwatch design.
First, smartwatches are necessarily large to accommodate internal components like a battery and silicon chips. As technology evolves, we’ll certainly see thinner smartwatch cases, just as we’ve seen shrinking tablets. It will be difficult to mitigate large display sizes, because, for example, Android Wear’s contextual information just wouldn’t be easy to read on a small screen. But at least traditional women’s watches have been trending toward larger sizes for a number of years now, and this could benefit the smartwatch market.
Second, if the traditional consumer electronics manufacturers can find smartwatch traction, they’ll inevitably explore diversity in product design.
The Moto 360 is relatively big, but the design isn’t immediately antagonistic to women. (Image: Florence Ion)
First-generation smartwatches have been modelled for the mythical early adopter, and for better or worse, this means a 25- to 45-year-old dude who defines himself as a tech enthusiast. So of course these watches err toward masculine and nerdy. But we can only expect more gender-neutral (and possibly female-focused) designs as the consumer electronics companies explored segmented product lines like the traditional wristwatch brands.
Third, we may not even have to wait for the Samsungs of the world to catch up. One of the best things about Android Wear is that it’s a turnkey system platform that can be iterated across a wide range of designs. And so we have Fossil – a very female-friendly wristwatch brand – already onboard as an Android Wear partner. Product diversity might come quicker than we think if other traditional watch companies (at least those on the low end) see promise in Google’s OS.
The Withings Activite isn’t a full-fledged smartwatch, but its secondary dial reports daily step counts with gender-neutral panache.
But let’s also recognise some movement toward gender-neutrality that we’re already seeing today. Motorola’s Moto 360 gets a nod of approval from Wolfe at Citizen Watch. Among all the smartwatches he’s seen, he says it has the least nerdy design, though “it’s a little over-sized, so it may be difficult for her to wear. From our data, not that many women are wearing 46 millimeter watches.”
The Withings Activité is another promising development. TechHive’s Caitlin McGarry has seen it in person, and says it’s “surely the classiest smartwatch you’ve ever seen.” Granted, it’s more of a pure activity tracker than a full-fledged notifications machine, but she told me she’d readily wear it.
So perhaps a smartwatch’s aesthetics may be its most important “feature” of all. Notifications, step counts, driving directions – they’re all worthless if you think your smartwatch is so ugly, you’d never put it on your wrist.