Cell phones move in on wristwatch territory

Laura holt

Wristwatches are losing popularity among tech-savvy consumers. Okay, so those of you sporting a $17,000 Rolex may still have your doubts, but for the majority of college students who are still flat broke, if you are toting around the same cheap watch, chances are you are somewhat relieved, and not the least bit surprised, that the wrist watch is a bit behind the times. Over the past five years, watch companies have been struggling to compete against cell phones for the college student’s buck.

“I have a dozen watches, but whenever I think to check the time I’m like, ‘Where’s my cell phone?'” said CSUN Student Diana Prieto.

Unlike watches, Wireless Week Magazine says cell phone sales are up again this year. In their 2005 online report, Cingular had profit increases of 56 percent, Verizon data subscribers increased 48 percent, and Nextel revenues expanded 35 percent.

Cell phones have many uses that target a larger market-calculators, picture capabilities, Internet access, and mp3s are only a few of the features available. Thus, it makes sense that consumers are using cell phones to keep on schedule, too.

However, cell phone companies are not only competing against the wrist watch industry-they’re breaking into it. In 2003, every James Bond fan’s dream came true when Japanese phone company NTT DoCoMo released the seemingly impossible cell phone wrist watch, WRISTOMO. In 2004, the watch became SKY PerfecTV capable, the first batch of 1,000 selling out in only 20 minutes. Motorola has also expressed plans to build phones into wrist watches as well as into glasses, digital cameras, and pens.

In an effort to compete, Fossil and Citizen tried working with cell phone companies when they launched their new watches, attempting to lure back consumers in places where cell phones have become an annoyance. When its owner’s cell rings, the watch vibrates, allowing users to keep their phone ringer off, see who’s calling on the screen, and send the call to voicemail discreetly.

The 2005 report “Watches and Clocks in the U.S.” by consumer market-research firm Packaged Facts concluded that because of cell phones, the watch market was down 5.1 percent from 2004 and has been in a steady decline over the past six years. However, the report does suggest that while people are moving away from using watches to tell time, they have not abandoned the watch altogether. Jon Goldfarb is wearing a 1940s oversized Omega wristwatch. As the owner of Hollywood’s Second Time Around Watch Company, he says the wristwatch industry, at least the higher end, is not in any danger. “Collectors admire the beauty and art itself. They wear a watch because it’s unique?” he said, adding, “They wear it because it makes a statement.” He mentions that the companies that are suffering are the lower-end brands, the ten, fifteen dollar watches. into the workplace.

So while cell phone use is growing in popularity, cell phones will never replace a true wrist watch. Packaged Facts analysts expect the overall wristwatch market to stabilize by 2010 and competitively reestablish their place in the consumer market.