Go, Go, Go!

Can Orchard Road retailers learn something from the world’s hottest game?

Pokémon Go

By Low Teck Mee

There’s a new game coming to your smartphone. To play it, you can’t loll on your living room sofa or ensconced yourself on a toilet seat, or be bound to your work desk. In fact, you’d have to get off your butt. And you’d have to be somewhere—anywhere but indoors. You’d have to move—yes, from point A to B.

The game, as you may have already heard, is Pokémon Go, and it has taken the world by storm even when it has so far been launched only in three countries. It is reported to hit Singapore (and the rest of Southeast Asia) soon, with rumours saying that we can download the app as early as next week.

For the truly impatient, I’m not sure that’s soon enough. Outraged that he couldn’t play the game on our backward island, a Vietnamese-Australian man working here recently charmed local Facebook users when he shared, under the familiar blue top bar, what was on his troubled mind: “You can’t fucking catch Pokémon in this piece of fucking shit country”. Alas, posting frustrations isn’t like posting selfies.

Like a child deprived of a favourite toy, the guy wasn’t able to balance on the edge of reason. As passionate as he was about Pokémon Go, he did not acquaint himself with the known fact that developer Niantic was holding off rolling the game in other regions, including Asia, as their servers have been crashing due to the wildly overwhelming response. Forbes even said that “the launch has been an unmitigated disaster.”

Pokémon Go outdoorsPokémon Go outdoors 2Screen grabs of Pokémon Go promotional video

Fury destined for social media rarely ever takes into consideration the responsiveness of others. It is understandable why the outburst is maddening for so many citizens.Despite scoring 2nd out 144 countries in the Global Information Technology Report 2014 by the World Economic Forum and despite being ranked last year by Akamai Technologies as the nation with the world’s fastest average Internet speed, our city is still thought to be stuck in some crap hole.

Barbs didn’t bring any Pokémon out and none were caught. With the resultant Netizen anger, also directed at his employer, the guy lost his job.

Not until this online fiasco did I really pay attention to the craze that Pokémon Go has become. Launched just last Wednesday, the game has caught on so dramatically that there’s talk Hollywood is interested in making a movie of it. Very soon too, it seems, as no studio is going to make an Angry Birds out of this one.

By now, many know what Pokémon Go is, but for those alien even to Candy Crush, the game allows players to hunt down, capture, and train Pokémon, much like the way it was when played with the mid-Nineties Game Boy consoles, only now you just need to toss a ball—known as Pokéballs—at them rather than battle the Pokémon. The action is set in the real world as seen through the smartphone’s camera. Pokémon Go prods you to walk around and call at Pokéstops to stock up requirements such as Pokéballs, potions and incense, all paid for with Pokécoins of course.

Pokémon Go screen shotsPokémon Go screen shots

Most interesting to me is the augmented reality (AR) in which the game has to be played. It had me thinking of what such a premise could do for businesses trying to ensnare people into location-based activity, such as offline shopping. What I also find compelling is that with Pokémon Go, “go” is the operative word. Here’s an app that, in bringing into play, the user has to move or proceed to or from a location, physically. You have to be in an actual place, surrounded by landmarks and people. Most mobile games before Pokémon Go does not entice you to leave where you already are, at the point the game is played.

“Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokémon,” goes the encouragement on the Pokémon Go website. That sounds to me like a rallying call Orchard Road retailers desperately need to communicate.

It is, of course, ironic that it takes the virtual world to get people into the real world just as it is bizarre that Pokémon Go’s dimension is accessible via our own. It is, however, such a co-presence that can potentially narrow the gulf between online and offline retailing. If the game has shown that the reality—even augmented—is, in fact, in the app installed on people’s mobile devices that draw them out of their comfort zones, then perhaps similar apps can also be used to lure shoppers into a store to spend.

I suspect retailers know this, but it is possible that none is willing to invest in such an outdoor-bound gaming/cellular experience. Or, perhaps, too many are occupied with battling e-commerce, taking on those online stores that put people comfortably in their own sheltered domains that these traditional store owners are not able to conceive or fathom a digital and augmented pathway that connects shoppers to their very physical front door. Orchard Road sure needs PokéStops.

Pokémon Go homepageThe homepage of Pokémon Go

If retailers are unwilling to put in the development cost of creating this augmented trail to their stores, perhaps they could collaborate with Niantic to designate their premises as PokéStops. Already such an idea has been proposed. And it isn’t terribly new since it is fundamentally like the known commercial spaces identified as stops in Ingress, another Niantic-developed AR game.

I should say that, like most people here, I have not played Pokémon Go. But based on user reports, it is quickly addictive and awfully fun. When was the last time Orchard Road had the ability to elicit such a reaction? Maybe with a GPS-enabled app and cute overlays on real-life locations, the tide will turn. Never mind the risk of the disgruntled f-bombing social media sites because they can’t get what they want. The Web community has its ways with dealing with people like that.

In the end, as we transit from the virtual to the augmented, what most of us want from retail or an afternoon shopping is an immersive experience, one that captures the imagination, and allow participants to have some fun. Orchard Road, when Pokémon was first introduced, may have had those qualities, but that was a different time. These days, digital longings as much as material desires define the modern consumer.

Now, which Pokémon do I want to pounce on? Not Pikachu. It’s Purin (also known as Jigglypuff)! But the real question is, how do I capture the smartphone zombies that will now surely overrun the city when Pokémon Go finally arrives?

Earphones For The Wrist

By Low Teck Mee

If you are, like me, prone to forgetting your earbuds, and they are necessary for a bearable MRT ride, then maybe you need a set that can be worn on the wrist. Here, just above the hand, is really the best place to keep your wired set within reach. An over-populated bag, where, for most of us, earphones usually reside, truly hampers retrieval. Nothing is more annoying than not finding your earphones when the person next to you is watching Youtube on his smartphone at full volume and you really need to block out the cacophony.

Wraps wristband headphones are such a wearable peripheral. They look rather regular until you twist them round your wrist and secure the ends at the attached catch. Voilà, wristband! The best part is that you get to choose from a selection of cords, including one that looks like a string of beads. They come in assorted colours too.

Unfortunately, as it sometimes is with a thing of practical beauty, some sacrifices have to be made. These earbuds don’t generate the most captivating of sounds. To me, they’re a little on the bright side, which is generally fine if you have mostly Meghan Trainor and her pop sisters on your playlist. But if bass is your priority, you may need a portable amp to corpulate with it.

Wraps wristband headphones, from SGD48, are available at The Assembly Store, The Cathay

Is This The Best-Looking Selfie Stick?


Momax Selfie Pro ChampagneBy Low Teck Mee

There could be a reason why so many museums ban the selfie stick. Most of these sad excuses of an extension of your woefully short arm for holding a smartphone afar to capture the comely face that is yours are downright ugly. I say, in a gallery of beautiful art or objects, the average selfie stick is at odds with its surroundings. And, of course, there’s the safety issue; safety to the priceless wall-hung and pedestal-sitting residents of the museum. A selfie stick astray or with a mind of its own could be a million-dollar (or more) disaster.

But what if yours is an attractive selfie stick that makes the owner look like a respectable selfie professional? What if yours is the Momax Selfie Pro? When I first saw one of these, I thought it was a reincarnation of a marine telescope, also known as a pirate’s spyglass. Once in your grip, they’re even lovelier to behold. The handle is wrapped in what the company calls “leather-felt” and finished with a decorative cross-stitch—you’d want to caress it.

The telescopic arm extends up to 90cm in length, and at the end, a phone mount can be screwed on (which means, if you’re using a compact camera with a female threaded receptacle, you can mount it on this stick too). The unit comes with a Bluetooth shutter control that comes with a clip to be attached to the handle of the stick. You can, therefore, control the shutter while holding the stick with one hand.

Each set also allows you to download an app from for both iOS and Android. With this activated, you can shoot without even touching the shutter control. All you need is just gesture to your smartphone, such as a wave, and the app does the rest for you. It’s called Grab to Shoot. Very nifty.

And Is This The Handsomest Power Bank?

M Craftsman power bank

I’m saying this at the risk of irking iPhone fans, but I’ll say it: the new iPhone 6S Smart Battery Case is a Quasimodo of a slap-on phone case. Like selfie sticks in general, it’s ugly. I don’t know how smart it actually is (does an increased talk time of 25 hours count?), but it sure does not look smart.

So elsewhere it is that some of us would have to look, not necessarily for a battery case (they do add extra weight to your phone), but for a power bank. I do like carrying my extra juice separately since I, being a gadget lover, have no qualms in bringing an extra device along when I am out and about. Shortly after discovering the Momax Selfie Pro, I found this beautiful M Craftsman power bank. If you want a smart portable charger, you won’t find another smarter-looking than this. And it does not have to be called smart to look it!

The M Craftman Neon is a 6,000mAh beauty (to compare, the iPhone 6S is equipped with a 1715mAh cell). The compact body belies the generous capacity, but what truly entices is the case. The upper is in leather (genuine or PU, I am not sure), and if not for the on symbol, you’d thought this is holder for something like a cigar cutter. Inside, the charger is powered by a Samsung cell (Galaxy users rejoice!), and a full charge takes about 4 hours. That’s quite long, but if style and portability matters to you, this won’t be out of place in a Kelly bag.

Momax Selfie Pro selfie stick (90cm), SGD89, is available at Gadget Plus, Bugis Junction. Photo: Momax. M Craftsman Neon portable charger (6,000mAh), SGD70, is available at leading digital supply shops. Photo: M Craftsman

The Pill Form

Elecom Bluetooth Capsule Speakers

Back in 2012, Christian Louboutin released the Pilule shoulder bag—dubbed the Pill-Popper—as part of a capsule (pun not intended) collection to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The bi-coloured resin bag, shaped like an actual pill, sported the Louboutin name on one side, and “500mg” on the other. Given that substance abuse is very real in the fashion industry, many thought the bag to be of questionable taste (to be fair, a year earlier, Jeremy Scott had released, in collaboration with Longchamp, the even more startling Le Pliage ‘Pills’). But objects in the shape of a prescription pill continue to appear in the market for consumer consideration.

Elecom Bluetooth Capsule Speakers split

The tech world, for reasons not easy to grasp, is most predisposed to the shape associated with pharmaceuticals. Among the USB drives and such that caught our eye recently is Elecom’s Bluetooth Capsule Speakers. Released early this year, these wireless speakers, to be fair, are rather handsome looking, and sturdy to boot. Like a pill (but unlike Beats by Dre’s Pill) you can split the two sides of the Capsule so that there’s the right and the left. Placing them apart allows you to get a more three-dimensional sound, which is surprisingly well-rounded (the bass is adequate too), considering the unit measures a rather portable W60 x D71 x H62.5mm.

The Capsule boasts what Elecom calls “True Wireless” technology. In essence, it is NFC-enabled, which means pairing your device to the speakers is really a breeze (you may register up to 8 devices). Since no wires are needed to link the left and right units, you can place them separately at any end of your room with no deterioration of sound. The unit comes with a charging cradle so that you can juice the built-in lithium batteries for up to six hours of continuous playback. It’s not quite enough for a flight to Tokyo, but then, you don’t use them in a cabin of a plane.

elecom pill earbuds

This isn’t the first time Japan’s Elecom is releasing a gadget in the shape of something the doctor ordered. In 2010, there were the ear buds, also called Capsule, that looked like they had pills attached to them. When worn, they may look to the uninitiated like a strange way to remind yourself to take your meds! But what’s more puzzling is the text on the packaging of the in-ear pair. It read, ““Sundries Drug”. For now, we’ll just put it down to the Japanese propensity for strange word pairings.

Elecom Bluetooth Capsule Speakers, SGD169, is available at Elecom, Vivo City. Photos: Elecom

This Pink’s The Thing

Pink PowerFrom top left: Samsung Fast Charge Batter Pack 5200mAh, Apple Watch Edition 38mm 18-karat rose gold case with rose gray modern buckle, Garmin Vivofit 2 with rose gold band, iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch, Ray-Ban Round Metal Flash Lenses, and Adam Elements 256GB iKlips Lightning USB3.0 dual-interface flash drive

By Low Teck Mee

Please don’t say pink is the new black. It isn’t. I’ll take orange for my black; just don’t make me think pink. Well, not the pink Apple is trying to pass off as ‘Rose Gold’. A pink in any other name is still pink even in a hue that’s not quite easy on the eye at first glance. Thanks to the Cupertino company, much of the tech world is now enamoured with this shade of diluted air bandung. Even fashion accessories cannot escape the grip of this weak colour. And men are taking a shine to it as if life will be rosier with it.

I really don’t get iPhone 6S and the Plus version that are stained in that misleading, if not trying, ‘Rose Gold’. I was, frankly quite shocked when I first saw it at Nubox months ago. I asked the eager-to-sell-me-this-pink (!) sales guy what he thought of it and he smugly answered with a question: “Do you know it is the most popular colour now?” Or course I did not know. Who would have guessed that the chromatic love child of gold ingot and png kueh could find so many admirers?

Know I came to when I started seeing USB drives, USB data/charging cables, USB car chargers, portable hard drives, mini speakers and so many more I cannot now remember in that colour that makes me weep. And then there’s Ray-Ban’s Round Metal—a style I truly like—looking at me as if it had emerged from the wrong vat of dye. Poor thing. Ray-Ban’s eyewear has always been associated with a certain machismo. You can’t get manlier than a pair of aviator. Yet, here we have a pair of sunglasses eager to be part of Apple’s epicene ecosystem!

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t subscribe to colours as determinant of gender identity. I don’t dislike pink; I equate it with a shade of subtle pleasure: strawberry milkshake, cotton candy, cherry blossoms, and albino dolphins. I don’t connect it to the back of what’s considered the world’s best-selling smartphone. Pink is a nice colour for clothes—Chanel does some pleasing pinks, so does Raf Simons. Pink’s good for sneakers, too—even Nike’s Air Max 90, a hunk of a shoe, comes in pink (regrettably, Asics Gel Lyte 3 has released, gasp, a ‘Rose Gold Pack’!). But this pink, the metallic pink that’s oddly on the cloying side, this pink that’s neither Champagne nor Zinfadel; this is, to me, a poor pink.

‘Tis the season of giving: some hapless chap is going to be stuck with a thing in this pink.

Will The Strap Make The Difference?

Apple Watch Hermes Strap

Apple has just announced new products, but, as usual, there are few gadgets that one can truly be excited about. Apple’s not-so-big reveal in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco yesterday (US west coast time), may thrill the die-hards, but for the rest of us, life goes on, unchanged. Apple has not produced anything earth-shattering for so long that the hopeful have long parked their money elsewhere for excitement. Kanye West would be running for president of the United States of America, and Apple would be releasing iPhone 9, and the device still wouldn’t teleport you to the moon.

Yet, we’d like to sieve through the offerings to see what could make it to the fashion hall of fame… or the lame. We found it not quite at the top of the pile—the iPad Pro took the spot. The new Apple Watch Hermès that was announced didn’t quite cause the heart to skip a bit. Since the launch of the Apple Watch, the company has been courting the high fashion fraternity for staff, ideas, and support. Suzy Menkes excitedly IG-ed the watch moments after its reveal; she even wondered if it is “born from the meeting of Jony Ive and Axel Dumas at our Conde Nast Luxury Conference in Florence in April”, an event Ms Menkes hosted. While it is not surprising that Apple would collaborate with Hermès (actually, we had thought it would pick Coach!), it does not negate the fact that they’re a latecomer to high-profile pairings.

Apple Watch Hermes with diff straps

The first thing that impressed us was how similar the watch is to Hermès’s own Cape Cod series. The strap is clearly Hermès, especially in that leather, in that colour, with that top stitch. It is vaguely equestrian, too. Like watches offered by Hermès, it comes with straps in versions that you can twirl round the wrist or snap on as a wide band around it: the Single Tour, Double Tour, and the Cuff, all telling of what the style of straps they are. Wearables score better with consumers if they have the style cred of an elegant, luxurious fashion accessory. Or, in the case of the Double Tour, a distinguished provenance traced to one of Hermès’s earliest designers, Martin Margiela. Apple is not in the dark about that.

The target market, too, is clear: whichever that causes the unrelenting spike in Birkin sales. It is, thus, not unimaginable that Apple envisions attendees of Birkin auctions sporting the Apple Watch Hermès on their dainty wrists. Win the acceptance of the rich, and the rest will follow.

But does a strap really transform the desirability of this smartwatch? At its core, the Apple Watch, even with a luxury strap, hasn’t changed. You could use a new face with the Hermès logo on it, but that doesn’t modify the heart of the timepiece, which still only pairs with an iPhone. The Watch OS2 is announced to be released next week. If you care about such things, chances are, straps are immaterial.

Apple Watch Hermès with silver face is expected to hit stores in Oct. The straps are not sold individually. Prices start from USD1,100 for the Single Tour. Photos: Apple


UTme AppIt’s a matter of time when smartphone applications will do every up-to-the-minute thing for you. Not an outrageous thought, really. Fashion has become so apps-centric that many live and consume fashion via their mobile devices. It’s a cultural shift and consumption habit already noted, and they threaten to leave slow-to-adopt brands unfashionably behind. It’s no longer enough to engage followers via social media. Letting them in on the creative process is now elevating interactivity to the next level.

Last night, Uniqlo launched a customisation program called UTme! at its Bugis+ store. The create-whatever-you-like, wherever-you-are service is available for T-shirts, and they’re executed via a smartphone application, also called UTme. So compelling to use is the app that attendees at the launch event were willing to brave overwhelming demand to wait till closing hours of the store to receive their customised T-shirt. Before using it, few could have imagined that graphics to be emblazoned across the chest of a tee can be easily and quickly done via an app, but Uniqlo shows that coding and creativity can pair as naturally as, well, T-shirt and jeans.

UT (Uniqlo Tee) itself has been a wildly successful product category, buoyed by its embrace of commercial logos, popular icons, and collaborations with creative enterprises and individuals, all (presently) steered by ex-Bathing Ape designer Nigo. Through UT, Uniqlo has been able to elevate the T-shirt from its humble place in our wardrobe, and, in the process, propel its sales. It first appeared in 2007 in the concept store, The UT Project—a futuristic, multi-storey block, smacked in the heart of Tokyo’s Aoyama district, a skip away from Harajuku. It was a store that would not be out of place in the New York City of the 1977 film The Fifth Element. UT products were rolled into plastic canisters not unlike those used to contain tennis balls (the T in the abbreviation could, therefore, also stand for Tubes!) and covered with red screw-top caps. They were displayed in shelving units that could have been conceived by whoever designs the vending machines across Japan. Conceptually, The UT Project was as strong as it was visually arresting. It was a marketing sensation too, more so when you consider that it was a fast fashion company behind it. During the early days of rapidly-issued, trend-focused, and wallet-friendly merchandise, how clothes were wrapped was of no importance. UT’s packaging then was really half of its appeal. Shoppers came away from the store with so many UT canisters that you would not be considered ridiculous for thinking they were buying cans of their favourite soda or beer for watching the English Premier League at home.

UTme app interface

The Interfaces of UTme app

The UT Project was, unfortunately, canned. But it’s not in the nature of Uniqlo to let its T-shirts lose their vim. Customisation is in keeping with the self-promote-and-share ethos of the Instagram generation. And it can only augment the already vast styles and graphics available in-store. The UTme app may seem gimmicky, but to customers whose smartphone is the centre of their universe, it’s relatable and usable. It’s also intuitive to navigate. Once loaded, its colourful and simple interface, with huge tiles as buttons, would not confound even those who infrequently click on apps stores. The sequence of actions to be executed is logical—input-effect-ouput, and each step can be backtracked to undo a move. This allows the user to play with the numerous effects before confirming the final design. Graphics to be used can be from the stock shapes and stickers offered by the app or any picture from your phone’s album. Selfies are, therefore, not left out.

The functionality and features are indeed rather amazing for an app that takes up only 125MB of space on your phone, and, can be moved to the SD card, freeing up onboard memory space. Apart from the usual tapping and swiping, shaking the phone (gently or vigorously), not dissimilar to the WeChat function that allows you to randomly find other users to interface with, transforms the chosen graphic into bursts of twists, streaks, and tiles, thus distorting it for some rather startling and unexpected result. The more you shake, the more disfigured the image becomes, so much so that the final can be unlike the original. There’s also a ‘Glitch’ function that, when shaken and then paused, allow for Jean-Paul Goude-ish shredding.

Interestingly, UTme does not output terribly garish designs however dubious the initial image you choose (unless you prefer to use it unadulterated). It works rather like Singtrix, that karaoke machine that “makes bad singers sound good and good singers sound amazing”. Many of the effects are so delightfully abstract that, chances are, you’d be amused rather than repulsed. Choice is also the operative word, and within impressive options, some are no doubt artistic. The effect ‘MoMA: Early Modern Style’, for example, allows you to choose an ‘Effect Style’. One of the three available is ‘Pointillist Dot”. While it’s unlikely that the average Uniqlo customer is a Georges Seurat fan, it’s good to know that the brand does offer something that’s a little more sophisticated that the usual tools in apps such as Paint.

UTme tees

Some of the graphics created by SOTD using the UTme app

As you play with the app (and you should before confirming the final design) to get a better grip of it, you’ll be even more delighted with what else it has to offer. One that amazed us was the ‘Add Layer’ capability. This is not unlike what Photoshop offers, only easier to use, and simpler to execute. Each layer basically allows you to add effects to your chosen image or text. The maximum number of layers the app will accept is three. As for the image and text, it’s not unreasonable to assume that overzealousness sometimes begets inappropriate expressions. It would be naive to think that Uniqlo customers only wish to say I♥SG, or print a picture of Ginger the cat. According to the Chief Operating Officer of Uniqlo, Sei Tomochiko, the app itself does not gag unsuitable or sensitive user inputs. Censorship is left to the UTme! counter staff, who, when in doubt, are “instructed to consult the store manager”. On that note, users are also advised that copyrighted materials are not permissible.

The app and the output do have other limitations. If you leave the app, say, to answer a Line message, you won’t be able to go back to where you last were; you’d have to start from the beginning, which is frustrating, especially if you have completed all the layers you wanted and liked. Moreover, with high user traffic, uploading your design may require some effort. We were advised to tap on the ‘Done!’ button repeatedly. Patience is required for this task. If you pull down the notification bar to check your WiFi connection or allow your screen to go to sleep, your return to UTme may mean starting all over again. Your final graphic will be printed only on a white cotton T-shirt—no colour option. While the printable space on the tee is rather large, it covers only the upper portion of the body, which means if you want a neckline-to-hemline image, it is not possible. And only the front is accepted for printing, not the back, and certainly not the sleeves. Photo print-resolution varies: it is less sharp if the image is shot with the front camera of your smartphone. Colour intensity tends to favour pastel shades than jewel tones. As the T-shirt is fed into a direct-to-garment (DTG) printer that allows the printing to be finished in a single pass, the registration is as good as heat-transferred photo-prints. Furthermore, the print has a soft hand feel. Once the design is uploaded and the payment paid, you’ll be able to collect your T-shirt at Uniqlo, Bugis+.

The customising of T-shirts by garment retailers is not new to Singapore. Several years back, at the now-closed Nike flagship store in Wisma Atria, tees purchased at the store were customisable on-site. For reasons not known, the service was discontinued. We’re inclined to believe that what Nike offered was limited, even pedestrian. There were mostly letters and numerals to choose from, and the placement of text was limited to what hand-positioned transfers could do. No special effects, no images, no selfies. So, unless you were a fashionista keen on customising your boyfriend’s football jersey, there was little appeal in Nike’s service. Uniqlo, conversely, took the best of graphics editing and availed them in one nifty smartphone app. The rest is left to the imagination of the user. More importantly, they made it entertaining and fun.

This post has been updated (16 July 2015) to reflect the replies to questions posted to Uniqlo earlier

The UTme app can be downloaded from the Apple Apps Store as well as Google Play Store. The T-shirts to be customised, S$29.90, are only available in white. Net proceeds from the sale of UTme! T-shirts between today and 10 Aug 2015 will go the Community Chest. Funds raised will be matched dollar-to-dollar by our government in support of the Care & Share Movement. Photos: Jim Sim

Two Of A Kind: Block Party

Swatch & SonySwatch Touch (left) and Sony Smartwatch 3 (right)

Both have oblong faces and appear to wrap the wrist, and both allow touch-screen operation. But one is just smarter than the other. When Sony’s Smartwatch 3 made its appearance last month, and we had the chance to handle it recently, the device—better categorised by the fancier and geek-worthy name of “wearable”—immediately reminded us of the Swatch Touch. Put them side-by-side, however, the similarity immediately evaporates. Keep them apart, one reminds us of the other.

The Swatch Touch is clearly a piece of pre-Android Wear wrist fashion. With its curved digital display, and font that looks like an art deco take on Arabic script, the Swatch Touch was refreshing at the 2011 launch, given the tired looks of the standard Swatch offering. With Swatch’s fading popularity, the Touch appeared, even momentarily, like an attempt by the Swiss company to re-write the design of inexpensive fashion watches. Until Android Wear came knocking and gadget makers opened their doors.

Sony’s third iteration of the smart watch—this time, Android Wear-enabled—looks completely different from the previous two, just as the predecessor is unlike the debut piece. But while most of the competitors are making theirs look more like a watch (i.e. round-faced, such as Motorola’s Motor 360 and LG’s G Watch R), Sony’s is decidedly geeky, almost a toy, and rather Swatch-like. Not that that’s a bad thing. Far from it. For gadget that’s Dick Tracey-worthy, we prefer them to sport a rectangular screen in portrait orientation. If we’re going to use our watch to tell time as well as mirror some of the functionality of our smartphone, we really prefer something that comes across as an extension of our smartphone. Who really prefers to look at holiday shots or city maps cropped into a circle?

Time may be running out on 2014, but it’s only beginning for the smart watch. Okay, Google!

Swatch Touch, SGD195, and Sony Smartwatch 3, SGD298, are available at authorised dealers

Nothing To Watch

Apple WatchApple Watch: Just two of the 34 combinations you can choose from

By Low Teck Mee

The Apple Watch is not a game changer. There, I’ve said it. Some people want to wait and see, but I’m happy to state it now. And it feels as good as the moment Apple finally announced the existence of the wrist-bound wearable: other people can breathe easily and with triumphant delight; I am just relieved that the phantom iWatch can finally have a grave (possibly in the iCloud among nude photos of movie stars) and that many of you can put an end to years of mindless speculation.

Oh, this is not to knock the many ecstatic fans who cheered so loudly when Tim Cook teased on stage with “one more thing” that you’d have thought everyone was given a free trip to the moon. When the Apple Watch was finally revealed, it was a standing ovation inside Cupertino’s Flint Center for Performing Arts—a temporary church to the cult of the fruit that was once a pome of temptation at the beginning of time. No, this is to join everyone else in delighting in Apple’s big reveal.

Apple Watch on the wristThe Apple Watch on a wrist as seen in macworld.com

But it’s no revelation that Apple is late jumping onto the already crowded smart watch bandwagon. Then again, Apple isn’t exactly a forerunner of mobile technology. As with the iPhone 6’s (and iPhone Plus’s) bigger screens, the Apple Watch is really just joining the club, which is fine since the club doors were never closed. But is this fashionably late?

Apple sure knows it needs to get into the kid leather-bound good books of fashion folk. In Cupertino, fashion editors were in attendance even when New York Fashion Week hasn’t ended. Vogue stalwarts such as Franca Sozzani and Emmanuelle Alt showed up, so did unlikely watchers Gwen Stefani and Liberty Ross. Elsewhere, Instyle’s Kelsey Glein considered it “well worth the wait” and “an object of beauty”. Mobile and tech news site BGR quoted colleague Eric Wilson as saying that the design is “generic in the sense of its flexibility and individualization.”  Style.com’s Tim Blanks was clearly seduced: the Apple Watch is “where art, luxury, technology, and romance (he was taken by the gadget’s ability to send out heartbeats!) meet”. Vogue China’s Angelica Cheung tweeted, “Standing ovation for #apple #iWatch (sic)”. On the same medium, three and half hours before the Cupertino event, British Vogue’s Alexandra Shulman claimed she was “looking forward to a life-changing watch”, but did not say after that if her life was changed. She did later blog to say that the watch she saw earlier “practically makes thinking redundant and it’s got the fusion of cool design, likeable graphics and techno wizardry that we expect from Apple”. Self-confessed “non-digital specialist” Suzy Menkes opined, “From a fashion point of view, the external aesthetic seemed neutral: neither super-stylish nor repellent. I would imagine that geeks would love it more than aesthetes.” GQ took rah-rah-ing one step further by posting a “fashion spread” on its online version: the Apple Watch peeking from under suit-and-shirt sleeves, underscored by leather bracelets. It seemed only New York Times’s Vanessa Friedman was willing to go against the grain, pondering, “Does it rewrite the rules of our aesthetic expectations?” And her answer? A firm “no”.

Apple Watch GQGQ‘s super-quick reaction: a fashion spread on GQ.com

To be honest, I have not seen the real thing. What I have seen is what most of you have seen: from what is being posted online and on Apple’s song-and-dance homepage, now appended with a new tab “Watch”, filled with eye-popping images of its latest Swiss army knife of a toy. One of the earliest visuals to appear on Instagram made me think: Nano reborn. Then I saw a video-demo of the home screen and I thought it was an attack of emoji, only to realise, quickly enough, it was a galaxy of widgets! Cute UI and a techie’s idea of elegant form factor may not be comfortable partners to a Dior suit or handles of a Chanel 2.55. I’m sure Apple thought of that. That’s why the Apple Watch itself is a tad better-looking than what its competitors put out not long before. That’s why they will be offering two watch sizes in three different cases (stainless steel, anodised aluminium, and 18-carat gold), as well as a slew of straps that will bring the total styles to a not unstaggering thirty four. That’s why in their marketing speak, they’re eager to assure that “there’s an Apple Watch for everyone”. The thing is, I don’t see Patek Philippe trying to please all and sundry.

Maybe I am looking at this wrongly. Maybe this shouldn’t be viewed as a fashion item, an accessory as vital to one’s image as a bag is. The bag houses our entire life, but these days, it’s likely the smart phone that’s storing our increasingly digitised existence. Apple Pay—the electronic payment system, also just announced—will before long render our wallets redundant, hence possibly our bags too. The Apple Watch is Apple Pay-enabled. Is Apple Watch then a viable mobile addition, replacing our smart phones altogether? Many people seem to think and hope so. I wonder what will happen if, as a result of the rise of Apple Watch, Louis Vuitton loses a sizeable part of their bag business. The mind boggles.

Apple Watch digital crownApple Watch’s navigational tool “digital crown” (right)

I am also amused by how so many reviewers were bowled over by Apple Watch’s “digital crown”—no doubt nifty and qualifies the device as a watch—when the idea is really not new. Back in the days when Sony was making hand phones without the Xperia branding, pre-Sony Ericsson, it had incorporated into some of its handsets a neat little feature called the “jog dial”. Especially memorable was the compact Music Cellular Phone CMD-MZ5, a handset that predated the iPhone. Unlike the “digital crown”, Sony’s “jog dial” was able to scroll up and down, rock forward and backward, and be pressed inward to execute commands. At that time, about 2000, the “jog dial” was awesome. Today, with touch-screen tech, the “digital crown” really isn’t grand.

That’s the thing about the Apple Watch: it’s a product conceived to meet our expectations, not exceed them. Sure, there are gimmicks galore, but will we need them to navigate a day in our mundane life? Some of the features may be useful, but most of them require third-party apps. What’s most exasperating for would-be smart watch owners not propped by iOS is that the Apple Watch won’t work without an iPhone. What good  is a button without a buttonhole?

Unplugged: The Earbuds Become A Necklace

Jabra Rox Wireless as Necklace

Earphones have always been wearable tech, way before the present profusion of gadgets for the lower stretch of the forearm. Apple’s recent acquisition of Beats confirmed that earphones are more investable than fitness bands, and are more visible and desirable, and enduring. Anyway, who spams your social media feeds with selfies of the wrist, whatever encircles it? A beaming countenance framed by a ridiculously large on-ear headphone in blazing colour is far much more fetching for the front-facing camera of the smartphone.

That is why we’re not sure if these Jabra Rox Wireless ear-buds will catch on. Don’t get us wrong; we love them—so much so that, at first sight, we bought not one, but two! It’s just that they may be terribly discreet and underwhelming for those hooked on headphones-cum-ear-muffs brandished with a conspicuous ‘b’. It’s hard to sell Celine to the Cavalli customer, no?

Some ear-buds are really more wearable than others. The Jabra Rox Wireless is one of them. With the standard ear-buds, you drape the cable over your shoulders when not in use. With the Jabra Rox Wireless, click the ear-buds together, and you’ll get one necklace with a high-tech pendant! Just the accessory to go with a white tee. Or lay atop the lapels of a black Dior jacket.

Jabra Rox Wireless Pic

The nifty convenience aside, these ear-buds pack quite a punch in their tiny water-resistant metal/rubber bodies. Jabra is not really known for their earphones even when they are associated with wireless headsets. So it is a delightful surprise when these are slipped into the ear. The sound is full, clear, and punchy, with just enough bass to affect the body without loss of control. And when they say “massive”, Jabra means it. Rarely is there a need to push volume past the half-way mark. With the right fit of the ear-buds (‘ear gels’ and ‘ear wings’ of various sizes are provided), ambient noises are adequately filtered.

And when the music flows? Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars takes over the head as the pianos tinkle smoothly into electronic highs against percussion and baseline that deserve to be in any FIFA World Cup anthem. And Chris Martin’s dream-like yet soaring vocals are clearly dreamy and high-note reaching (listen to Always in My Head: it won’t get out of your head!). In a word: gorgeous. With Tokyo String Quartet’s Beethoven: String Quartet, it’s hard to fault the smoothness of articulation—the lucid strings blend, dipping and rising to create that warm feeling that is always welcome when in bed and it’s raining outside.

The beautiful sounds are easily accessible via the in-line remote, which allows you to control the volume, change tracks, and, of course, answer calls. Here, too, lies the NFC chip, a neat addition that lets you pair a compatible smartphone (and tablet) without fuss. And the best part: when you need a break from the music, just unite the ear-buds, and they snap together magnetically, and, at the same time, go into sleep mode. When you’re ready for their intended use, uncouple the ear-buds, ease them into your ears, and a sweeter-than-Siri voice discreetly tells you that you’re “connected”.

And, yes, we love discreet.

Jabra Rox Wireless, SGD168, is available at Epicentre outlets and Stereo, The Headphone Concept Store

Kindred Spirits: Tech and Fashion

Moschino X Samsung Note 3

Who was there first?

We know Apple hitched a ride on Burberry Prorsum’s SS2014 show in London, touting the iPhone 5S before its launch with a one-and-half-minute teaser and a 15-minute video captured on the handset. Christopher Bailey was quoted in an Apple press release: “This collaboration celebrates our relationship and shared foundation in design and craftsmanship. We have a mutual passion for creating beautiful products and unlocking emotive experiences through technology, which has made it intensely exciting to explore the capabilities of iPhone 5S.” I suppose it has nothing to do with the target audience such as Sienna Miller and Harry Styles sitting in the front row, or their millions of followers, or what’s trending.

The Burberry collection seen with an iPhone 5S

The Burberry collection seen with an iPhone 5S

But Apple was not the only tech giant to share the clout of some brands during fashion week. In a blog posted on Samsung Tomorrow, Samsung was in Milan “to help celebrate Moschino’s 30th anniversary this year “, showing off not just its soon-to-be-released Galaxy Note 3, but the Galaxy Gear as well. It is, of course, rather curious that a three-decade-old label should need the assistance of a hand phone maker ten years its junior. This, however, was not Samsung’s first fashion week appearance. In New York earlier, the phablet and watch appeared in Dana Lorenz’s Fallon runway that was essentially an accessory presentation.

It’s not hard to see that there’s something mutually beneficial here. Despite the massive unsolicited publicity hand-phone launches receive these days, fashionable is not an attribute that can be immediately dialled up. In the first quarter of last year, Samsung Electronics was crowned the world’s largest phone maker by unit sales, not surprising since its handsets, particularly the Galaxy series, have been all the rage. But popular does not necessarily mean cool, the one quality always associated with Apple. By hobnobbing with fashion labels during the most important days of the ready-to-wear calendar, Samsung could see the cool factor of its products inch up.

Similarly, while fashion may have become a global circus, as IHT’s Suzy Menkes so rightly pointed out recently, not many brands are as tech-savvy as the ever-streaming/posting Burberry. Moschino, not in the collective memory of the world’s fashionistas for a long time, could really reach out to a Tweeter-mad generation by showing smart phones alongside smart suits.

These tech giant are, in fact, a little slow to the game. Fashion has been a marketing medium for a while to non-clothing brands, especially drinks: Coke Light has ensnared Lagerfeld’s silhouette for its cans, Evian has allowed Lacroix to pattern its glass bottles, while Piper-Heidsieck Champagne’s opaque bouteilles wear Gaultier‘s corset and, this year, fishnet stockings. Despite the arguments against carbonated drinks, alcoholic or not, when designers are associated with them, imbibing them may, for a moment, not be harmful to health.

Although it is doubtful that there will be a co-branded Burberry iPhone or a Moschino Galaxy Note, these exercises in mutual admiration can only become more evident and frequent, and as persistent as celebrities in the front row.

Photos: Samsung Tomorrow, Burberry

New Gold, Old Gold

iPhone & Casio

Now that, like everyone else (or the rest of Asia), you’ve splurged on the gold iPhone 5S, ignoring the milk-in-the-blend of the colourful 5C, there may not be much in the wallet left to buy something else, such as a watch that can match the gleam of your new handset. In fact, it is not likely that you may have a timepiece that goes with gold since most of our wrists are averse to the colour of our parents’ wedding bands.

This is when the Casio A158WEA-9 comes in. It’s not a gold-coloured watch, only the face is (allowing it to be as bi-coloured as Apple’s flagship smartphone). The retro vibe is a perfect counterpoint to the iPhone’s sleek minimalism. And the best part… it can be bought at some retailers with the change you got from the purchase of the 5S: S$20!

The Casio A158WEA-9 is available at select dealers