Connected watches fall into two categories. There are hybrid watches, which look like regular watches but add connected features like activity tracking or a heart rate sensor. And there are full-blown smartwatches, which are more like little computers on your wrist, with their own screens, operating systems and apps.
What? Watch chooses to do neither. Instead, it mixes and matches features from hybrid watches and smartwatches to create something atypical. We spoke to What? Watch CEO Igor Basargin about the company's approach to connected watches, how it sees the rest of the industry and its newest creation, the Monograph, which allows you to share digital diaries.
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"We want to add a bit of atypical functionality," Basargin tells us. "What we're doing is adding to the classical looking watch some digital motor functions, which would not duplicate the functions of a smartphone but rather add something."
Basargin points to its original Kickstarter project, the Calendar watch, as an example of a watch that does something similar. The Calendar Watch uses its E-Ink display to highlight parts of the day that are busy. For instance, if you've got a meeting from 2 to 4pm it'll gray that area out on the watch face. Rather than simply regurgitate the information in you calendar app, it wants to provide a different context to the same information in a simple way.
Simplicity is key to all of this. Basargin says the company doesn't want to "over-stress the user with lots of functions" because it believes smartwatches have crammed too many functions into small devices. It's partly why the company opts for E-Ink displays in its products. E-Ink allows What? Watch to avoid the friction of OLED and LCD displays, like charging every couple days and turning off the screen to preserve battery life.
Basargin says it sees Apple and Google's approach to smartwatches, and while it appreciates their approach, it likens its device to that of Withings. It prefers hybrid watches that prioritize design while adding certain smart features, and it thinks the rest of the industry will go the same way eventually.
"We think, honestly, that the market will move more in the future toward devices that would be a watch and not a computer," Basargin says. "It's going to be a watch first but with added functionality."
The newest step in What? Watch's plan is the Monograph, a watch that can create a digital diary that you can share privately with friends. The watch is actually a relaunch and retooling of the Stop the Time concept it came up with a while ago, which was inspired by old stop-the-time analog watches that stop the minute and hour hands when you press a big red button. Those old analog watches would keep track of time in the background, and when you press the button again the hands would fast forward and catch up the the present. The only differences are a more refined design and subtle changes. And oh, a Kickstarter campaign so that it can get the watch in more hands.
The What? Watch team felt that to be a poetic idea, and decided to build a watch around it with a modern twist. The Monograph has a companion app that's something of a cross between a chat app and Snapchat. When you press the big red button on the Monograph watch, it creates a timestamp in the app. You can use the timestamp to create a story of that moment. You can import photos from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or just add them manually. When you do, and when your friends contribute, little notches will appear on your Monograph watch face. When you're done, you can share the stories privately with friends, which is the default mode, or you can shoot them off to your social networks.
"The whole idea of the application is that you allow a user to create stories that are private by default," Basargin says. "We think that there is a certain demand of not necessarily being private, but sharing content with the people who really care about this content."
What? Watch has more concepts and ideas that its working on for the future, with one specifically that it would "love" to introduce. While we weren't able to get details, Basargin promises it'll stick to its philosophy and "add unusual to the usual."