I met last Friday with a team of entrepreneurs who told me that ten years ago they were working on a Swiss smartwatch: the Microsoft/Tissot SPOT. And indeed, in 2004, both companies teamed up to produced what was hyped back then as a supercomputer on your wrist. The project never took off, and is probably one of the reasons why Swiss watchmakers are now so reluctant to invest in this field.
Reminds me an terrifying conversation I had with a couple of three-years-from-retirement professors at my Alma mater. I was asking “so what are your plans around online courses?” Their answer: “we tried CD-Rom interactive e-learning in the 90s, and it didn’t work, so don’t tell me that the MOOC thing is relevant, it just doesn’t work!”
Seems to me the Swiss watchmakers are stuck in a similar reasoning: they tried smartwatches way before the market and technologies were ready, and because of their early failure they are now writing off the whole thing. Big mistake! Jobs didn’t stop doing tablets because the Newton failed. He used this as a learning experience, one that convinced him a good interface didn’t need a stylus. He waited for screens to be better, for chips to be smaller, then came back with a product someone who hadn’t failed before probably could never come up with.
Being early on a market is really hard, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to stop innovating, especially when technology moves as fast as it does.