The Apple Watch demonstrates how the worlds of fashion and technology are beginning to blend, but will it have mass-market appeal?
An iPhone looks good in any hand – we rarely examine whether a handset is masculine or feminine, suits large or slender fingers, or fits with a particular outfit. Sure, smartphone design is important, but it doesn’t make a statement about the individual to the same extent as clothing. All that changes when the technology becomes something you wear. With the launch of its first smartwatch, Apple became the latest technology maker to enter the world of fashion.
Even the harshest critic of the Californian manufacturer must acknowledge that the Apple brand is powerful. Its logo somehow retains value whether it’s being flashed in a hipster coffee shop or an old people’s home; the symbol transcends straightforward associations.
However, in bringing out a wearable, the manufacturer is putting all that brand kudos on the line. It’s one thing to be a cool tech brand where functionality and style are of equal importance, but it’s quite another to be a respected part of the fashion industry. No company has yet made the leap from gadget maker to style brand, and only time will tell us if Apple can do it.
The manufacturer is certainly hedging its bets when it comes to design, moving away from its traditionally small product lines to a huge array of different styles. It was an acknowledgement that it would have to approach the wearable space in a new way. This variety offers the consumer more choice but it also dilutes the Apple message.
There was a telling moment during the Apple Spring Forward event when model and maternal health advocate Christy Turlington Burns appeared on stage with Tim Cook to discuss her use of the Apple Watch. Burns was wearing the watch but had changed the strap from her ‘sporty’ one to a ‘chic’ version. It was a clear demonstration that the wearable was not a universal product suitable for all occasions, like the smartphone. Altering tech to suit the occasion creates a barrier between user and product, the tech goes from being an essential tool to a fashion accessory. Accessories are interchangeable and often left in drawers.
Understanding style in relation to technology has of course been a pillar of Apple’s success, but style in equipment terms is completely different from style in clothing. The two are now of course coming together, and only the public’s reaction will tell us whether Apple has once again judged it just right.
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