I've had an on-off relationship with watches ever since little spiky-haired Mike got his first timepiece. (It was a Mickey Mouse watch in case you were wondering). There have been periods in my life where I wouldn't leave the house without a watch, but there's also been times where I just didn't care about wearing one at all.
One thing I've never really paid a lot of attention to was the piece of material holding the watch case in place. Recently though, something has changed that and I'm putting it down to smartwatches. Specifically, the Apple Watch.
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For the first time last week as I was about to leave the house, I grabbed my Watch Series 3 from the charger on the beside table and put it on. Then I stopped for a moment and decided the watch band didn't really go with what I was wearing and swapped it out for one Apple's new magnetic bands. It took me a few seconds to realise what had just happened. Without even really thinking about it, I'd become the kind of person who was styling a piece of tech to match my clothes.
And I'm not the only one experiencing this for the first time. I spoke to a fellow Apple Watch owner and they said exactly the same thing. They never really cared about watch bands until smartwatches turned up.
Without these bands, the Apple Watch instantly loses that sense of uniqueness
Now I've written enough over the past year about Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Fossil and others making a big deal about interchangeable watch bands. But if I'm being honest, I never really felt that people cared a whole lot about this. Especially when you had to fork out extra for the bands in most instances. In a world before smartwatches, it was also possible to do this with most watches - albeit in a more fiddly fashion - so we're not talking about some groundbreaking piece of design.
I tried to take a step back and think about why things may have changed for me recently and here's what I think is happening. Smartwatch makers, chiefly Apple, are actually making really nice watch bands first and foremost. Yes, there's literally bucketloads of third party options out there as well that do a good job at mimicking Apple's band, but especially with its recent spring and summer collections, Apple is actually doing a pretty good job of offering a variety and high quality bands.
The key here is that without these bands, the Apple Watch instantly loses that sense of uniqueness. Something that I, and I imagine a lot of people, associate with watches. Having something that nobody else has. Or at least not a lot of people have. Because watches are not phones. Nobody wants to meet someone and see they have on the exact same watch.
But if that does happen - and it will when more people buy them - these bands are a way of giving that uniform rectangular case more of an unique identity. One that doesn't have people just thinking or saying, 'oh, I see you've got the new Apple Watch'.
I've had more compliments about those watch bands than at any time since the first-gen Watch came out. What that tells me is a couple of things. Smartwatches are starting to feel more of the norm, which to me is no big surprise. People are commenting on the specifics, not the sheer fact of me wearing one.
It also tells me that the interchangeable bands serve as a reminder that these smartwatches are still very much watches at their core. Apple and the rest of the connected timepiece-making brigade should never forget that; it's what makes a watch a watch. Whether it's a crown or a simple watch band, these are the design elements that have made watches work, so why change something that doesn't need to be fixed?
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