Author(s): George Jijiashvili
Baselworld is regarded as the centrepiece of the watch and jewellery industry for product announcements and updates. Next week's annual trade show in Basel, Switzerland will mark the fourth time that CCS Insight has attended the event. Here, we reflect on how smartwatches have emerged as a theme at Baselworld over the past three years and highlight what to expect from this year's show.
Baselworld had a pivotal year in 2015. The buzz created by the launch of the Apple Watch raised consumer awareness to a level that meant traditional watchmakers could no longer ignore the potential of this new segment (see Instant Insight: Baselworld 2015). That year, TAG Heuer announced a partnership with Google and Intel to create a smartwatch and this quickly became the biggest media story from the show. Although there was significant pushback from event organisers on the topic of wearables, there were some early signs of acceptance of smartwatches by the Swiss watch industry.
In 2016, the show became the subject of attention of tech media, as companies including the Fossil Group, Michael Kors, Nixon, Samsung (in partnership with De Grisogono) and Tissot made major announcements (see Event Report: Baselworld 2016). Some traditional Swiss watchmakers that were originally opposed to the concept of a smartwatch started to evaluate this opportunity, largely prompted by the downturn in the Swiss watch industry in 2015 and the growing success of the Apple Watch.
Some of the smartwatches announced at Baselworld in previous years: TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45, Guess Connect, Michael Kors Access Grayson, Frederique Constant Notify and Movado Connect
Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the watch and jewellery fair, but despite attracting 106,000 visitors, celebrations were muted. Hit by a challenging exchange rate climate, global macroeconomic headwinds and the ongoing impact of China's anticorruption measures, the total value of Swiss watch exports continued to fall (see Event Report: Baselworld 2017). Nonetheless, smartwatches became more prominent than ever. The two weeks before the show saw several announcements of Android Wear-powered smartwatches, including products from Montblanc, Guess and its sister brand Gc, and Movado. TAG Heuer debuted its second-generation smartwatch and the Fossil Group underlined its commitment to smartwatches by unveiling several new products. One notable new exhibitor was Samsung, which had a lavish stand in the main hall.
This year Baselworld is set to be noticeably different. There will be nearly half as many companies exhibiting as in 2017— down to 700 from 1,300 a year ago. At its peak in 2011, the event had more than 2,000 exhibitors. The exhibition space has also been reduced by one-third, with the top level of the recently-built exhibition hall not being used. Furthermore, Baselworld will only be open for eight days instead of the usual 10.
Although the Apple Watch remains the "elephant in the room" at Baselworld, the other technology company that watchmakers will be following is Google. Android Wear has become the de facto operating system for manufacturers wanting to offer touch-screen smartwatches, and several watch brands have made significant investments in developing devices powered by this platform. That said, we caution that the user experience on these devices is almost completely dependent on the Android Wear operating system, and we believe it has been lagging behind that of the Apple Watch for some time.
We're also concerned that Google's commitment to Android Wear appears to have diminished and enthusiasm has died down. We suspect that the company has shifted its focus to devices in its Pixel portfolio as well as those integrating Google Assistant. However, we hope to be proved wrong at the show next week. With no other meaningful alternative, we expect that Android Wear will remain the platform that leading watchmakers will need to use if they wish to announce new smartwatches at Baselworld.
Numerous notable smartwatch makers will be absent from the event, including Guess, Movado, Mondaine Nixon and Samsung. However, given that there was a lack of smartwatch and wearables announcements at this year's CES and Mobile World Congress, we await news from the Fossil Group, Frederique Constant, Google, Swatch and others in Basel.
The show will offer a good chance to assess the current health of the smartwatch industry and we recommend following CCS Insight analyst George Jijiashvili on Twitter (@George_CCS) for live coverage from Baselworld from 21 March.
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