It might look like a regular, stylish designer smartwatch but the 2018 edition of the Emporio Armani Connected is a huge deal for the millions of people who are about to buy smartwatches.
Why? Because this is Fossil Group getting serious about serious smartwatch features. Fossil Group makes full-screened smartwatches for Emporio Armani and an ever-increasing list of designer names including Fossil, Michael Kors, Skagen, Diesel, Kate Spade, Marc Jacobs and Misfit.
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So what we see on this watch is almost certainly coming to 2018 or perhaps 2019 editions of Wear OS smartwatches from all those brands.
What features are we talking about? The big one that we can see all those names adopting is NFC payments with Google Pay – or Alipay in China. It shouldn't bulk the design out too much and it's one of those things that might convince someone teetering on the brink of buying, especially if they're not interested in using this device for serious sports tracking.
Because the other features – heart rate tracking, built-in GPS and waterproofing to 3 ATM for runners and swimmers – are all geared towards sports. The other consequence of this is that suddenly these good-looking, round smartwatches – which do come with silicone straps and aren't all too dressy to work out in – suddenly rival the Apple Watch for what it can do. And as iconic and polished as the Apple Watch is, it's still not available as a round model.
Not to hype it too much – we haven't seen or tested the Emporio Armani Connected yet – but this could be the beginning of not having to choose between style and functionality. The next watches from Fossil, Michael Kors and co will be in store windows, on models etc with something to say other than: you can change the colour of the strap.
And hey, we're actually fans of the micro-apps that these designers have been working on, with custom watch faces, quirky animations and fashion focused tie-ins. But they were never enough to sell a device on. You can have those glanceable bits and bobs with the antennas and sensors inside for those who want those too.
One thing that remains to be seen is whether Fossil Group's brands will include these features on smaller, sleeker smartwatches and those aimed at women. The new Emporio Armani Connected is a 43 x 49mm watch and we don't have the weight or thickness specs yet.
Some regular readers have spotted that we tend to give Fossil Group devices 3.5 stars out of 5 in our smartwatch reviews. And it's exactly the lack of these specs – like payments – that often keep us from going higher (we have made exceptions). Sure, in many ways it is simply catching up. But now with this bold declaration of a kind of Phase 2, Fossil Group's everyday designer smartwatches have the chance to come highly recommended on both style and substance.
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