The Apple Watch is two. Happy Birthday, for he's a jolly good fellow and so say all of us. In its two years on sale, the Apple Watch has been relatively unchallenged, an infancy of unparalleled luxury. But the party is now over and for the first time Apple faces real opposition from Google, and its new army of luxury partners.
Now, we're not saying that there hasn't been decent opposition in the past. The original Huawei Watch, Sony SmartWatch 3 and Pebble Time were all decent, highly recommendable smartwatches. But ask the average man in the street (and we say man, because let's face it, very few women were buying the gigantic Huawei Watch) and few would even know who Pebble or Huawei are.
Essential reading: Apple Watch Series 3 investigation
The same could be said for Android Wear, which spent its first three years known by only developers and techies, renowned more for the promise of what could be delivered in terms of services and apps than the actual experience.
And Apple has wallowed in its rivals' lack of desirability. It amassed a 33.5% market share by the end of its first year and clung onto most of its monopoly through its second holiday period.
So why has Apple's smartwatch party come to an end? Because Google's upped its game. While we've written countless articles opining on a crisis as Google let Apple run away with the smartwatch market, it's come back with a new, much improved version of its OS and a harem of partners that should make Apple sit up and take notice.
Tag Heuer, Hugo Boss and Tommy Hilfiger (all part of the Movado Group), Fossil (with Michael Kors, Diesel, Armani) and Montblanc have all signed up to Google's Android Wear project. These are huge brands, and a world away from the original line up of Android Wear watches from the likes of LG, Samsung and Asus.
And with these new brands come new customers. People that wouldn't have looked twice at smartwatches from Motorola or Huawei – or perhaps even Apple – now have a different option, from brands they know, trust and perhaps even love.
And these brands are also beating Apple on price. While the Cupertino smartwatch has played at the fashion game by playing at the top of the market – with stainless steel 42mm Apple Watch Series 2 prices starting at around $600. The Hugo Boss ($395), Tommy Hilfiger ($295) and Michael Kors Access ($350) all undercut Apple, showing that in smartwatches, you don't have to pay more for labels.
There's one more reason for Apple to look over its shoulder – and it comes back to that dig I made earlier… about the "man in the street". A host of Android Wear brands, from Tag Heuer to Fossil and Michael Kors, are developing on female-focused smartwatches. Not just a 38mm version of the same case designed for men, or a rose gold skew. But specifically designed cases, watch faces and strap choices, made for women, from actual fashion brands. And it's the first time that's been true for smartwatches.
As the Apple Watch turns two, it's still a market leader. It's put smartwatches on the map, and is one of the best experiences to date – our recommendation as the best smartwatch money can buy confirms that. Apple will stay on course, and rumours about the Apple Watch Series 3 point to a new screen, thinner build and LTE. But as its rivals turn on the style, it faces an even bigger battle ahead.
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