French designers eliumstudio have created what they claim is the first product to combine the functionality of wearable tech with the good looks of analogue timepieces (+ interview).
The designers teamed up with Electronics company Withings to create the watch, called Activité.
“Activité is a real breakthrough compared to most of the smartwatches that we know of,” said eliumstudio’s Frédéric Lintz.
“It is the first analogue watch that combines the benefits of traditional timepieces with an activity tracker connected to your body.”
Lintz added that he believes the Activité marks a new generation of wearable devices.
“We consider this watch as the kick-off product of a new generation of connected objects that bring technology in our everyday life, in a smooth way,” he said.
Activité is a Swiss-made smartwatch that works with an accompanying application to monitor steps taken, calories burned and distance traveled by the wearer, as well as their sleeping patterns.
This data is then displayed on the watch’s analogue sub-dial, using a basic scale of 0 to 100 and a distinctive blue watch hand.
It comes with a classic calf leather strap and has a touch-sensitive lens that lets the wearer switch between their activity targets by tapping it.
“The idea has never been to provide a smartwatch that replaces your phone for emails or surfing the net,” Lintz explained. “It is not a geek-centred product, but an accessory that dedicates itself to everyone.”
The watch is the latest in a series of smart technology eliumstudio has designed for Withings, which includes the Babyscale – a weighing device that connects to a phone, tablet or computer, and allows parents to send data directly to doctors.
Activité will be on general sale from August 2014 and comes in black or silver.
Here is an edited transcript of our interview with Lintz.
Can you briefly explain what Activité is and how you use it?
It is the first analogue watch that combines the benefits of traditional timepieces with an activity tracker connected to your body. It allows you to measure your walking, running, sleeping or swimming data, with a lifetime battery that only has to be charged once a year.
These services are complemented by a dedicated application on your smartphone, which follows your achievements and keeps track of your health.
Why did you think a mixture of analogue and digital technology would work well?
Activité is a real breakthrough compared to most of the smartwatches that we know of. It was imagined as a connected watch, which is different from all other watches. Withings wanted to focus on evidence and efficiency while combining the benefits of analogue watches with the intelligence of smart services.
The idea has never been to provide a smartwatch that replaces your phone for emails or surfing the net. It augments an iconic object that most of us already use, with additional functions and services.
Why haven’t we seen more designers combine analogue and digital functionality in watches?
Most connected objects try to express technology in a fashionable way, but with Activité the fashion becomes technological. We consider this watch as the kick-off product of a new generation of connected objects that bring technology in our everyday life, in a smooth way.
The integration of dedicated components inside a product that is not bigger than a regular watch was a real challenge for the engineers. Both eliumstudio and Withings worked a lot on this issue.
What do you think makes a beautiful watch?
We like to think that most of our designs are seductive, and we are very careful with the eloquence of the design we propose – especially when it came to Activité. It was really crucial for us to provide an emotional design that would be be recognised and appreciated by most people.
The Swiss-made label plays a major role in defining what a beautiful watch could be – the perceived quality, the use of real materials, etc.
How has the studio’s approach to designing smart products changed over the years?
During more than 15 years of practice and over six years of work in the specific area of connected objects, we are still convinced that the human has to be placed at the centre of the process when it comes to smart technology. Simplicity is crucial.
For us, technology is not a goal by itself. This means that we try to hide it as much as possible to make more meaningful objects. We do not want the user to adapt to technology, which is a twentieth century vision; we are now in a time where technology adapts itself to humans.
What were the biggest design challenges for this project?
The traditional watch market is huge and has its own codes and values, so it was crucial that Activité matched these. Above all, our main challenge was to communicate Activité’s singularity inside this set of values that characterises high end watches, while also providing something immediately different from most other watches.
Another point to keep in mind was Withings’ intention to create a long lasting product. To avoid the constant recharging, Activité had to last one year without changing the battery. This has had an impact on the integration of the watch’s movement and components.
Do you think the death of the traditional watch is near?
Absolutely not! On the contrary, we are convinced that traditional time masterpieces will remain, as they have been seen as icons for decades now.
There is no doubt that smart technologies penetrate every single domain with new usages and new services – even areas that seemed to be traditional or closed-off at a first glance.
But the watch connoisseur will keep on enjoying the endless possibilities that timepieces offer, so we do not believe that smart or connected watches will cannibalise the traditional watches, even if some classical makers develop hybrid models.