The thinking behind Fossil's 'fashion first' second generation of wearable tech

Fossil Group VP Antonio Nigro on millenials, AI and making a statement
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We're in Barcelona to see Fossil woo the fashion crowd, with its latest hybrid smartwatches on display amongst canapés and crazy cocktails. We're there representing the tech portion of this fashion x tech love-in and it's interesting to see what all the chatter is about - straps over specs - and how super stylish Instagram pics featuring the collection are carefully created.

The various launches of the 300 wearables - yes - we're due to see in 2017 from the whole Fossil Group portfolio is heavily stacked towards fall and 'holiday' but we thought we'd check in with Fossil's plans to make wearable tech truly fashionable and desirable. We spoke to Antonio Nigro, VP Europe North for consumer electronics at Fossil Group, about who Fossil wants to wear the next generation of wearables and what's next in the master plan.

Give the millennials what they want

"With the offering, having this variety of fashion wearables out there, we are actually in a position to have a broader target group," he says. "But the main target group we can see, or the largest, would really be millennials."

Hence, you can assume, features like setting one of the 'pushers' on the hybrid watches like the Q Accomplice, to act as a remote selfie button. The features are almost identical to last year's devices as it also tracks activity and sleep but the selfie button, in particular, went down a storm with the stylists at the launch event.

The thinking behind Fossil's 'fashion first' second generation of wearable tech

At one point all our watches will be, somehow, connected

Fossil also sees a difference between the people buying its hybrid watches and the touchscreen Android Wear watches; Nigro mentions professionals as a cohort who are interested the latter but says it isn't simply an age gap. Women, too, are firmly in Fossil's sights.

"The thing that we're really proud of is that we have been able to attract the female customer with the first generation of even our full display smartwatches," he says. "Our target is not to say - we need to add much more functionality to it - but - how do we make this watch more attractive for a female consumer as well? So a lot of innovation that we've been working on was very strongly focused on design. Our hybrids are slimmer. That's a big difference, they look so much more feminine now."

Fossil's own brand Q Wander, its first full screen watch aimed at women, launched in late 2016 and it's clear that sizing has been a priority since then. When we first reviewed it, we said the size isn't for everyone and even with Fossil Group hybrids such as the adorable Kate Spade Metro Grand, I've lamented that this particular watch is not slightly slimmer and lighter on the wrist.

A bold statement

On style, aside from size, it's hard to fault Fossil wearables - each time we see the latest batch of hybrids they look closer and closer to regular, stylish, comfortable wristwatches, likewise the touchscreen watches. The polish, materials, straps together with the variety, details, watch faces, even the branding of the apps, it's all there.

The other main tech criticisms of the first gen Fossil wearables were the price to features ratio, display quality and flat tyre plus some connectivity issues. Now the flat tyre on the bottom of the Android Wear watches has finally gone so that's an easy win but we don't know the screen specs of this year's devices yet other than the fact the Emporio Armani Connected, and its equivalents at other brands, will sport a "high resolution" AMOLED screen.

The thinking behind Fossil's 'fashion first' second generation of wearable tech

Fossil needs to get the tech and features mix right precisely because it's being so bold in its ambitions. From the end of this year, all new Michael Kors mens watches will be smart in some way. For many people, especially those interested in fashion, these watches could be their first taste of connected self tech.

I ask if this is an experiment, to which Nigro replies: "No, it's a statement. The great thing about our portfolio variety, from a customer perspective, is that you can offer each brand the opportunity to go as far as you want to go. Generally speaking we believe that at one point all our watches will be, somehow, connected."

During our chat, Nigro emphasised that while Fossil will keep up with new hardware, it is not going to stuff its watches with every available feature. "We're partnering with the best technology companies out there, Android Wear, Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.. It's not about offering everything that is possible. It's more about making sure we've got the great design and offering key functionalities that our consumer is actually looking for."

One thing he is clear on is that Fossil's "main play" in wearables will remain around the watch, as opposed to pushing Misfit-style smart jewellery, say, now that it owns Misfit. But he doesn't think that innovation in smartwatches or hybrids is ready to plateau just yet, either: "I think it's going to be super interesting for the next two or three years. What is the internet of things or artificial intelligence going to bring? Think about smart home, connectivity. I think there's going to be much more to come."

The thinking behind Fossil's 'fashion first' second generation of wearable tech

Fashion first

So will wearables save Fossil, as James Stables argued late last year? At the last earnings call in early May, Fossil reported that connected watches and accessories had offset some, though not all, of the decline in traditional watch sales which is encouraging news for the future. With no official sales figures, it's hard to know how to gauge the success so far, aside from the fact that all 14 Fossil Group accessory brands, including DKNY, Marc Jacobs and Tory Burch, will have wearables by the end of the year and brands like Michael Kors are expanding from last year's initial efforts.

The watches can be used with both iPhone and Android so we can't get close to the full picture from app downloads alone (as Apple doesn't make all the figures public). But it's worth noting that the Fossil Q app has been downloaded between 100k and 500k times from Google Play and the Michael Kors Access, Skagen Hagen Connected and Kate Spade New York Connected app have all been downloaded by Android users between 50k and 100k times each to date.

We'll be getting our hands on as many styles of Fossil's 300 wearables as we can this year; right now I have the new Fossil Q Accomplice hybrid on my wrist so look out for a review of that coming soon.

Fossil itself defines its role, and criteria for success, within the fashion and watchmaking industries as a leader with a mission in progress. As Nigro tells us: "It's always about fashion first. So if it doesn't meet our fashion criteria, we cannot release that product... There is no-one else that is actually playing the same way we are doing it. From a technology standpoint, we will keep focused on the fashion and I really believe this is where we are going to play the game because this is our strength."

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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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