You Asked Us: Will Watches Replace Phones?
I’m sure we’ve all done it. Instinctively reaching for your cell/mobile phone when you want to check or confirm the time is becoming commonplace. But perhaps we are living through a transition period that might see time’s most trusted teller return to the wrist after all. But maybe not in the way we’d like…
On the surface, this question seems a bit odd. It seems a bit backward. We’re more than used to being asked whether smartwatches will replace mechanical watches, but being asked if watches will replace phones? That’s a much newer suggestion that would have sounded crazily topsy-turvy a few years back.
Cellphones are everywhere. They have been for years. Even children have them these days. From the cradle to connectivity, or something like that…
And the general assumption is that traditional mechanical watches will eventually give way to their smart counterparts that enable users to connect with their mobile devices in a new and, supposedly, more intuitive fashion.
As it stands, however, the traditional “un” smart watch seems to be doing just fine. That is perhaps because the phone is still separate from the smartwatch, which is little more than a wearable conduit for the functionality of the cellphone itself. But as technology continues to miniaturize, batteries become more advanced, and screen technologies improve, it isn’t hard to imagine that the phone itself could become obsolete.
From the pocket to the wrist
We already have cordless earbuds with inbuilt microphones. These can be used with existing cellphones to make hands-free calls. It is totally plausible, therefore, that as soon as the technology of the latest iPhone can be shrunk to the same size (or close to the same size) as the Apple Watch, we could well see phones moving from the pocket to the wrist as watches did generations before.
Without the phone itself, the smartwatch is a bit of a damp squib.
And this eventuality would present a far greater challenge for traditional watchmaking. Currently, smartwatches are a bit gimmicky. They are unnecessary. They do not add a huge amount of functionality to the phone. Heart rate monitors are probably the most tangible benefit to many of these wearables. Without the phone itself, the smartwatch is a bit of a damp squib. And even with the phone, it is optional.
A shift in culture
If we assume that phones are essential and that they will only continue to become more essential as the physical and digital worlds further interconnect, then the idea of being without one in the future seems untenable. If phones make the wrist their new home, the traditional mechanical watch will need to find a new (or old) habitat.
Years ago, when the smartwatch phenomenon began, I wrote several articles about how the mechanical watch would survive this shift in culture indefinitely, simply because a mechanical watch is not, nor has it been for a long time, only about communicating the time.
…because of the craftsmanship, the philosophies behind both the science and design, and the love that went into their creation…
Traditional watches are very often personal expressions. This is especially true for men, who rarely wear much else in the way of jewelry. The desire to express oneself does not dissipate because new technology emerges. And the reason so many people choose to express themselves through watches — because of the craftsmanship, the philosophies behind both the science and design, and the love that went into their creation — will also remain.
A new home
And so it is very plausible that, yes, watches will replace phones, and that traditional mechanical watches will either have to find a new home or adapt in hitherto unseen ways. The pocket would be the obvious place for migration. But maybe the phone’s stint on the wrist will be shorter-lived than we might currently imagine.
I believe watchmaking will persevere. I believe that whatever storm comes the industry’s way it will weather it in one way or another. What is less certain in my mind, however, is the direction communication technologies will take in the distant future.
…the craziest proposition of all.
It seems plausible to me that the phone will enjoy a stint on the wrist. But what comes next? Minority Report-style projections, hovering before your gaze or emanating from your palm, or scrolling around your forearm… The list of possibilities is only limited by our imaginations. And so while it seems totally feasible that the phone will occupy the wrist for a while, to suggest it will stay there for good when we haven’t even scratched the surface of “bio-hacking” seems like the craziest proposition of all. Let us know your mad visions of timekeeping and communication technology in the future in the comments section below.