Watches. And Tony Fadell. One represents Apple's future, while the other hails from Apple's past. But it turns out Mr. Fadell is a watch guy, so to speak, and you can learn a lot about a person from just their watch. More to the point, Hodinkee, one of the top watch blogs, interviewed Mr. Fadell, not about technology, but about his watches.
The timepiece industry is in some ways the polar opposite of Silicon Valley. Steeped in tradition, Swiss watchmakers in particular have made a multibillion dollar industry of defying progress, ignoring it, and standing proudly in the past.
The cheapest quartz watch on the planet can keep better time than the most expensive mechanical watch ever made, yet Swiss, German, U.S., and Asian companies alike have made strapping legacy machinery on your wrist a status symbol.
At the same time, few industries are as forward thinking as the watch world. Watch companies invent metal alloys, and they find new ways to use old ones. At the highest of the high end, they push ever harder to make watches do more. Moon phases, perpetual calendars, repeaters, sunrise/sunset indicators, power reserve, chronographs, tourbillons, multiple time zones, retrograde dates, mean solar indicators...and more. Much more. All through mechanical means.
Now, swirl smartwatches into the mix. Apple Watch has absolutely snagged the attention of the Swiss watch world, and we've seen two smartstraps announced that I think are an excellent first step in keeping mechanical watches competitive for consumers interested in both luxury time pieces and wrist-centric computing.
We will see more such initiatives, too; these are the same folks who found a way to compete with cheap quartz watches—and later digital watches—by transforming their wares from functional necessity to aspirational luxury. They will find a way to coexist with computing wonders like Apple Watch.
Two Great Tastes
But Apple is bringing these two worlds, Silicon Valley and Switzerland, together. Just as sites like ours and the many other tech publications are paying attention to IWC, Montblanc, and a host of other watch companies, the watch world is paying attention to Silicon Valley, including its movers and shakers.
Tony Fadell is just such a mover and shaker. Not only is he the father of the iPod, he is one of the few ex-Apple execs to leave the company and find billion dollar success. He sold Nest to Google for $3.2 billion and now answers directly to Larry Page. He's been tasked with saving Google Glass, and it doesn't seem a stretch to imagine that at some point he could be tasked with rescuing Android Wear.
And it turns out he's a watch guy—like Jony Ive and several other top Apple execs, some of whom worked on Apple Watch. An extraordinarily wealthy man thanks to his Nest egg, Mr. Fadell has some expensive watches, and it's easy to understand why Hodinkee wanted to interview him.
But what does that interview tell us about Mr. Fadell and his feelings about what goes on his wrist? When someone like Mr. Fadell reveals his watch collection, pay attention.
Next: The Importance of Simple Elegance
Page 2 - The Importance of Simple Elegance
We can start with simple elegance. That shouldn't be surprising considering it was Mr. Fadell who championed the iPod navigation wheel and the Nest Learning Thermostat with its complete lack of onboard controls. In the interview he talks about execution, functionality, and simplicity. He talks about the importance of design and elegance. That combination features was completely absent from smartwatches until Apple Watch.
Take the Ikepod Hemipode Chronometer, a watch designed by Marc Newson. That's the same Marc Newson who is best buds with Sir Jony Ive and now works at Apple, and who either helped design Apple Watch and/or is helping to design Apple Car. In the 1990s, he designed this particular timepiece, and it's an excellent example of tasteful restraint in a submarket where complexity is not only the norm, but often the aspiration.
Tony Fadell's Watches
Ikepod Hemipode Chronometer in the Middle
Or the Panerai Luminor 1950. Simple, elegant, bold. The model below is courtesy of Panerai—Mr. Fadell's has an additional seconds complication that you can see at Hodinkee.
Tony Fadell's Watches
Patek Phillipe 5208 Minute Repeater in the Middle
Even the most complicated watch in Mr. Fadell's collection, the Patek Philippe 5208 Minute Repeater, is a study in simple, retrained elegance.
We Are What We Wear
A person's choice in watch is as much a reflection of their personality and taste as their clothes, their speech, or their mannerisms. Tony Fadell might never be involved in making a smartwatch, but if you wanted a glimpse at what kind of smartwatch he might design in the future, definitely start with his personal collection of timepieces today.
And I would bet that if he did take on the task of designing a watch for Google, it would be a far sight better than what we've seen come out of Google and its Android OEMs to date. I don't know that it would be a match for Apple Watch, a device integrally to what I consider to be a superior ecosystem than that of the Android world, but at the very least it would be more competitive.
As Mr. Fadell noted in the interview, "it's early days" in the smartwatch world, but if past is prelude, what we see in his collection will be reflected at some point in future Google products.