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Talking watches at Google

IN THE SILICON VALLEY (DAY 4)

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January 2020


Talking watches at Google

To say that Google has been quite active on the smartwatch front last year year would be an understatement. In January 2019, it acquired the Fossil Group’s entire wearables division for $40 million. And in November it bought out the world’s number two producer of connected devices (behind Apple), the American brand Fitbit, for $2.1 billion.

“S

martwatch Designer” is a new kind of job, one that did not exist ten years ago. John Angelo is the man in charge of watch face design at Google. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the company’s campus in Mountain View and talk watches with Angelo.

To say that Google has been quite active on the smartwatch front last year year would be an understatement. In January 2019, it acquired the Fossil Group’s entire wearables division for $40 million. And in November it bought out the world’s number two producer of connected devices (behind Apple), the American brand Fitbit, for $2.1 billion.

John Angelo, Watch Face Design Lead at Google
John Angelo, Watch Face Design Lead at Google

“We launched our operating system for wearables in 2014,” recalls John Angelo. “The idea was to create an open notification system. From the start we wanted to work with a large number of partners.” Wear OS currently drives smartwatches from tech brands such as Motorola, Samsung, Huawei and LG, as well as connected watches made by traditional watchmakers including TAG Heuer, Montblanc, Hublot, Casio, Movado and Louis Vuitton.

“My specialty is designing watch faces, tiles, and system interactions in collaboration with our partner brands,” says John Angelo. “We actually spend a lot of time with every single partner, digging through their archives and their history and coming up with the best solutions. One great thing about our team is that there are many mechanical watch enthusiasts, and they are eager to try to find the best combination between the utility of the connection and the design of the traditional Swiss watch. We want to find useful features that we can bring to the traditional watch world.”

Googleplex, the company's headquarters in Mountain View
Googleplex, the company’s headquarters in Mountain View

“There have also been moves within the company to bring in more fashion-minded people. This should facilitate the dialogue with the Swiss watch industry.”

The designer emphasises his admiration for watches that stand the test of time: “You can still wear a Swiss watch several decades after the initial conception. That’s a really big challenge for a designer in a tech company. Another major challenge is the power reserve and energy in the device. At Google, we have this concept of the ‘Joy of Missing Out’, a core purpose of which is to allow consumers to leave their phone on the side for a little bit.”

Contrary to popular belief, the smart device is not leaving the wrist to go elsewhere on the body, as Angelo explains. “Quite the opposite. One of our biggest priorities is health features like fitness and nutrition. The wrist is a convenient place for them. Google has developed other wearable projects such as Google Glass, but they are not intended to replace the watch.”

The Fitbit Versa line
The Fitbit Versa line

Following the acquisition of Fossil’s technology and teams, as well as that of Fitbit, Google is launching an offensive on the smartwatch world. Many expect it to launch its own hardware too. “There have also been moves within the company to bring in more fashionminded people. This should facilitate the dialogue with the Swiss watch industry,” says Angelo. “It’s a growing process, with a learning curve.”

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