It is entirely possible that they tried to and simply failed. What few people understand about “solar watches” is that the power they generate is minimal. It takes very little energy to power a digital watch with an LCD screen. The relative power thriftiness of Casio’s digital movements allows for a very forgiving system that has their watches running just fine even if the wearer isn’t outside all that often. Consider that if Casio wanted to experiment with more complicated screens, constant backlights, and connection protocols to other devices, the current photovoltaic cell systems would be insufficient to power the devices without additional battery support.
I’d quite like to know the types of projects that Casio’s R&D team experimented with and decided were either not possible with current technology or not commercially viable. Was battery life the real issue, or was it a lack of considering how a watch might offer more utility by connecting with other devices? I actually find this latter sentiment to be untenable. Explore the streets of the electronics-rich Akihabara district in Tokyo and you’ll find many stores filled with strange electronic gadgets whose purposes and appeal may confound you. Many of these same stores are where Japan’s watch lovers go to purchase the latest product releases from Japan’s watch brands. In the spirit of the Akihabara culture, I fully believe that Casio’s creative teams had loads of fascinating ideas.
Corporate politics and management styles might also have something to with Casio’s lack of pushing forward with major innovation over the last decade or so. While I don’t know if Casio in particular was affected, since the early 2000s Japanese electronics makers have been known to experience innovation paralysis due to the top-down nature of their senior management’s decisions to avoid risk. In a good economy, companies are willing to take much more risk, but Japan’s economy hasn’t exactly been amazing over the last 10 – 15 years. In an environment where a conservative, mostly senior management is calling the shots, innovative ideas which involve risk or large resources to develop from more junior thinkers are often shelved. I’ve seen this happen first-hand at other similar Japanese companies, and it is possible that this or something like this occurred at Casio. It would at the least explain why Casio has been sticking to “what works” over the last several years.
With that said, “what works” really does work well at Casio. Products like the G-Shock family do extraordinarily well across a range of demographics from urban youth looking for colorful sporty watches to active professional who require dependable timekeeping instruments for use all over the world. While a luxury mechanical watch might prove more sexy or valuable, none of them can beat the sheer reliability of most Casio timepieces.
In recent conversations with Casio, I’ve brought up smartwatches and their feelings about this upcoming mass of products that – if even partially successful – could prove to be highly disruptive to the entire watch industry. I was actually a bit surprised that at least some people in management positions at Casio seemed unconcerned or dismissive of the appeal of smartwatches. It is true that any long-time Casio devotee will list off a number of things a G-Shock can do that most of today’s smartwatches cannot even come close to doing – such as not requiring a charge, being water resistant, and offering extremely reliably performance. That is all true, but what of the potential, what about “next year?”
My own personal opinion is that Casio should be more invested in the future of smartwatches not only as a segment but as a leader. The question is what would a Casio smartwatch be like? Casio has clearly dabbled in this territory but hasn’t taken the initiative yet to say “Casio has a smartwatch now.” While they might have something waiting right around the corner, my inclination is that so far, Casio has not invested too much time and resources into considering that they should be a leader in this space.
Casio may not have a product ecosystem like Apple or a serious operating system like Google, but they have a lot of things that those other companies don’t. Casio knows better than pretty much everyone else out there how to create a fantastic looking and high quality watch for a very low price. Casio also knows how to make watches that consumers like to use, and that are comfortable. More so, Casio knows how to create a highly functional digital watch with features people actually use and displays that people understand.
Casio could be innovating not in terms of applying outside software and features to its devices, but extending its own functionality to a modern world. A Casio smartwatch doesn’t need to be a passive Bluetooth-based notification device, but can offer loads of information on someone’s wrist suited to the purpose of the watch. Pro Trek models could benefit from receiving real-time weather data and GPS information to give data nerds loads of information beyond simply things like the temperature and location. Why not things like current humidity levels, and tracking with precision the distance you’ve walked and displaying it at a glance on your wrist? People might not want to know that they have a new e-mail when they are hiking, but it might be nice to have much expanded information about your trek and surroundings. Using a relatively simple connection to an app on a phone or other sensors, this and more functionality is what I think Casio should be offering.
A Casio smartwatch should also seamlessly go from being a connected device to an independent device. For example, if you are in town and there is a connection to mobile data signals, you’ll have one experience. If you are out in the wilderness without a mobile signal, you’ll have perhaps some limited functionality, but still a reliable timepiece that doesn’t feel like it is useless. More so, Casio smartwatches should bear all the hallmarks of a durable Casio device meaning loads of shock and water resistance because their devices should not be afraid to go anywhere.
Essentially, what I am suggesting is an evolution of Casio successfully building on their current products, versus establishing new families for consumers to have relationships with. Connected functionality should be slowly rolled out into most G-Shock and Pro Trek products and simply be another “expected feature” added to the long list of functions you already count on from a digital Casio device. For instance, pick up most any G-Shock and you know without any doubt that in addition to the time it will offer an alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer, world timer, and calendar function. So why not simply add to that, making “smart functionality” part of the overall Casio experience?
This approach will not cause consumers familiar with one family of Casio products to feel they need to consider a new one. G-Shock owners will simply be able to get the newest and greatest G-Shock while staying within the same product family and see how each year, Casio keeps expanding and building this new area of functionality.
Casio might even be wise to stick with relatively basic LCD screens. Most of their current screens have very low power requirements, a decent refresh rate, and enough contrast to view all the time. Items like the Apple Watch and other high-functionality smartwatches use power-hungry screens which are beautiful but are usually turned off to save power. Casio’s smartwatches should have persistent screens that allow the wearer to glance at information all the time.
In addition to the basics which I can imagine, as I have done above, what I really want is a Casio who once again surprises me with designs, features, and innovation. I will say again that I really feel Casio should be a leader in the smartwatch space because it fits into their strengths and market position. casio.com