Why Is It So Hard to Make a Beautiful Smartwatch Band?

Why Is It So Hard to Make a Beautiful Smartwatch Band?
Photo: Apple/Gizmodo

A couple of weeks ago, on a camping trip with a friend, I was describing my newfound obsession with wearing my smartwatch to track things — namely, about how it’d been the primary driver in helping me overcome my quarantine workout slump. But as she glanced at the thick band on my Apple Watch Series 6, she mentioned that one of her hangups in taking the smartwatch leap was the way they looked. More specifically, why did so many of them have to look so damn dull?

I hadn’t really given this a tremendous amount of thought in the few weeks I’d had the watch. In the before times, I’d certainly eyed smartwatch bands and immediately thought, “No thanks, pal.” But if I’m being totally honest, it’s been six months of unabashed athleisure for me during the pandemic. The thought did, however, did cross my mind this last week as I tried to don my clunky black Sport Band with a flowy, feminine dress. It clashed terribly, and a dinky leather alternative I’d ordered on Amazon didn’t do me any favours either (in part because the images didn’t exactly match the actual product I was delivered). It left me wondering why the hell it’s so tough to get a smartwatch with a beautiful, tasteful band design from smartwatch makers themselves.

Let me give you an example: Apple’s new leather watch bands. In theory, a matte leather band from one of the most design-focused technology companies in the world would definitely be a winner, right? Wrong. When I was browsing band options for my Series 6, I was horrified to learn the only black leather band options looked ones my grandfather would wear. Granted, I have smaller wrists, so many ticker bands look ridiculous on my arm. But I mean, come on. That’s to say nothing of the price tags on these things. All of my colleagues agree the Apple bands are too goddamn expensive.

And this is not merely an Apple issue. I asked my colleague Victoria Song, who knows the smartwatch and wearables space intimately, whether this was just an Apple problem or an everybody problem.

“It’s an everybody problem! Let me tell you, default smartwatch bands are at best o-kay, and at worst, something to be immediately replaced,” she told me. “They tend to be way more expensive than you want at a quality that’s… dubious to say the least. In Apple’s case, I am not paying $70 for a replacement default band, let alone $140 for say, a braided Solo Loop. From colour options to crappy buckles and chintzy lugs, it’s a hot mess.”

Now, to be clear, there are plenty of lovely bands you can find elsewhere. Victoria recommended just getting “a better option for a lot less on Amazon.” Senior consumer technology editor Alex Cranz pointed me to Etsy, the next place I’m headed to find something that isn’t “just fine” or “criminally informal.”

Yes, I realise many of us wear our smartwatches all day every day, including when we work out, and I do want to reiterate that I love my Apple Watch. But would it be so hard to design a watch band that’s isn’t chunky, clunky, or ugly as hell? If I’m really going to get the mileage out of my smartwatch that I hope to, it needs to also double as a device I can confidently wear anywhere. I mean, honestly: Is that so much to ask?