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Deep inside the smart Swiss watches that challenge Apple Watch with analog panache

Jon Phillips | April 24, 2015
Philippe Kahn is a big man with a big personality and big feelings about Swiss watches. He's got a massive Alpina model on his wrist, and he's bragging about how the watch is water-resistant down to 100 meters, and can last more than two years on its built-in battery.

So let's call these the most sophisticated activity-tracking timepieces ever created. That's a huge promise in and of itself. And unlike the Jawbone UP24 wristband, which lasted a maximum of 14 days on a charge and required a smartphone app to see data, these watches last for more than two years on their built-in batteries, require no charging whatsoever, and display step and sleep data directly on their dials.

The subdial is a bit inscrutable, but once Fullpower explained its user interface, I quickly got the gist of how it works.

When you wake up in the morning, you exit sleep mode by pushing the button on the watch's crown. This puts the watch into daytime mode, and as you walk around throughout the day, the larger hand of the subdial shows your percentage progress toward a steps goal, pointing toward notation labeled from 10 to 100.

In the image above, we see the Fullpower employee who owns the Alpina watch has achieved just about 10 percent of his or her daily step goal. Note that dial illustrates progress toward a variable goal, and not actual steps. But if you set your goal to 10,000 steps, your daily step counts will directly map to the progress points on the dial.

As for the smaller red hand, during daytime mode it points to the current date — and, remember, because it's a "smart" watch, you never need to fiddle with pesky calendar resets. When it's time to hit the sack and start sleep-tracking, press the crown again. The small red hand will point to the moon (indicating sleep mode) and throughout the night the larger hand sweeps around the dial, showing your progress toward a sleep goal.

Most users will set an 8-hour sleep goal, which doesn't map very cleanly to the 0-to-100 percentage scale. But, of course, you can always sync the watch to your smartphone app to drill down into easy-to-grok data.

One app for your entire watch collection

The watches from Frederique Constant and Alpina arrived to the smartwatch scene with an air of eccentric Swiss mystery. Luxury watches? With smart features? The February launch event was a culture-shock moment for many tech journalists steeped in the smartwatch scenarios and buzzwords established by Samsung, Pebble, and Apple. But my day at Fullpower shined much more light on what these Swiss upstarts are trying to do.

For instance: I learned that a single smartphone app can be used with all the MMT watches, whether the physical timepiece comes from one of the three launch partners, or a future licensee. You can wear Frederique Constant by day and Alpina by night, and all your data will be seamlessly merged. In fact, your single app install intelligently rebrands itself based on which watch it's paired to.

 

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