Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09: The new face of sport watches

The evolution of the sports watch has rolled down a long and sometimes “self-winding” road. The latest incarnations are designed to provide a wealth of performance, climate and topographical data and are available in a vast array of styles and feature sets. Oh, they tell time too. The newest models, on display at ORWM ’09, offer a few new wrinkles.
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The evolution of the sports watch has rolled down a long and sometimes “self-winding” road. The latest incarnations are designed to provide a wealth of performance, climate and topographical data and are available in a vast array of styles and feature sets. Oh, they tell time too. The newest models, on display at ORWM ’09, offer a few new wrinkles.

Overall, sports watch vendors cite a couple of broad trends that are helping to drive the market at retail. First is the integration of numerous functions into more user-friendly designs, partly due to more refined technology coming down the pike. This shift can be seen in the growing number of styles that better suit women or others with smaller wrists, not to mention styles of watches that offer a greater variety of sport-specific functions. At the same time, sports watches—particularly analog versions—are now more fashion-forward, and feature bold colors and innovative designs on both the faces and straps. This combination of function and fashion cannot be underestimated when it comes to boosting consumer appeal.

Sports watches fall into three main categories: digital, analog, and combination analog/digital. All are popular, but for quite different reasons.

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• Digital: This category is the most technically focused, and generally offers the greatest number and breadth of functions. At the upper end of the performance spectrum, these watches qualify as mini-computers that can be synched with other electronic gadgets—such as heart rate monitors, home computers and MP3 players—and can be used in conjunction with various web-based fitness, training and terrain-mapping programs and sites.

• Analog: Although these watches have a more traditional look, they offer many handy functions such as chronographs, alarms, compasses, and even tide tracking. They are easy to use and have great appeal among consumers who want a rugged, practical watch that can be worn for both active and casual pursuits.

• Analog/Digital: As the name suggests, these watches combine analog and digital displays and functions. They blend the easy readability of analog watches with some of the complexity and advanced feature sets of digital models.

In the digital category, versatility is key. “Consumers are looking for triple-sensor watches that offer temperature, barometer and compass,” explained Mike Hosey, president of Highgear. “They are also demanding sub-features such as extra timers and countdown timers that can be used (for example) to remind the wearer to hydrate.” However, he added, “We’re seeing the technology go deeper, but it’s overkill for some consumers; they want to simplify.”

Even though PC compatibility is a small part of the digital watch market, GPS functions are becoming more popular. “Modular systems that use transmitters to send info to watches, and digital systems that measure speed, distance, cadence and heart rate, will be key in the future,” said Hosey. He said not only Highgear but also the watch market in general “is focused on capturing the data of one’s surroundings, and how one’s body responds to that environment based on activity. The challenge is to capture that data and show it in an understandable form.”

In the analog realm, popular design trends include military, aviation and automotive influences such as dials that mimic those found in fighter plane and racecar cockpits. Other style cues include the use of bold accent colors (reds, oranges, greens, blues and yellows), rugged silhouettes, and large faces. The use of high-end lightweight materials, such as carbon fiber and titanium, are becoming more common in upper-end models. And some are looking at a mimic of technology found in computers or MP3 players that consumers now seem comfortable with.

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Here are some company highlights from ORWM ’09:

Highgear - The new Axio Max (photo to right), part of the new Axio altimeter watch series, will be available at retail this March (MSRP $150). It replaces the company’s Axis and Summit altimeter watches. A stainless steel ion plating titanium (SS IPT) version will hit the market in Fall 2009 (MSRP $250). The Axio Max offers triple-sensor technology including a Swiss air pressure sensor, altimeter, and compass. Other features include a 100-hour chronograph, a multitude of alarms, a mineral-glass lens with a high-gloss finish that is water-resistant up to 50 meters, and a replaceable battery hatch. www.highgear.com



Suunto - The company claims that its new X10 (an upgrade of the X9i) is one of the smallest and lightest wrist-mounted GPS devices on the market. The X10 (photo to right) is compatible with several digital mapping services, including National Geographic TOPO!, Google Earth and Fugawi. While navigating a pre-planned route, the X10 shows the direction and remaining distance to the next waypoint, calculates estimated time of arrival, and shows the current speed and distance traveled. It also continuously checks barometer pressure. When a journey is complete, the X10 can be connected to a PC to review the route. Suunto Track Exporter software (available free on Suunto’s website) allows users to upload their adventures to Google Earth, where they can view their paths in 3D satellite imagery.

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For those who enjoy spontaneous exploration, the X10’s Activity Mode will record speed, distance and altitude information, along with any waypoints defined along the way. A “Find Home” setting guides the way back to the starting point (or marked “Home” position), and the “Track Back” function can be used to return to the starting point via recorded waypoints. The X10 can store up to 50 routes or 500 waypoints. Other functions include an altimeter, barometer, digital compass, thermometer, and an extensive memory. The X10 also comes with a USB charger that doubles as a data link. (MSRP $599.) www.suunto.com

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Timex -- For digital watch enthusiasts who are not intimidated by size, the Timex Expedition WS4 (photo to right), which launches at retail in May, incorporates a wealth of information onto a widescreen dashboard format (MSRP $199). The watch offers four core functions: an altimeter, barometer, thermometer and compass. It also includes a chronograph, alarm and timer. The WS4 technology is sealed in a lightweight composite casing, and fortified with a stainless steel bezel. Users can choose between a rubber strap for traditional use and an expandable XL elastic strap to wear over performance gear. The WS4 is available in six styles, including combinations of black, orange, yellow, blue and white. www.timex.com

Wenger -- Like the company’s multi-functional knives, Wenger’s new Commando SR (photo at top of article) analog watches, part of the Commando Series, are versatile and attractive. Features include a stainless steel case, Swiss quartz movement, chronograph, circular slide rule, tachymeter, date display, and water resistance to 100 meters (330 feet). The line is on-trend with its military/flight influences and bold color accents. (MSRP $375.) www.wengerna.com

—Judy Leand

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