The company selling a $10,000 smartphone mulls fancy wearables too
Luxury brand Vertu is known for selling phones with price tags that make an iPhone 6S look like a bargain. Now, it’s mulling over creation of a wearable product that you also likely won’t be able to afford.
The British phone manufacturer, once a part of phone giant Nokia, hinted that it was looking into this area during an event showcasing its latest product, a phone called thethat costs £6,500, which converts to around $10,000 or AU$14,100.
“That is an interesting space for me,” Vertu CEO Max Pogliani said in an interview. “I think it is getting to a level of maturity which is worth having a look having a look for us.”
Vertu isn’t alone, as wearables — that you wear — have been attracting heavy hitters from both the tech and fashion sides of the world. On one side are players like Apple and Samsung with their watches, Google and its Android Wear software for wearable devices, and fitness tracking devices like Fitbit. On the other side are luxury brands such as Tag Heuer and Hermes, which are collaborating with Apple on its Watch.
Vertu, however, occupies a unique position in the market, straddling the worlds of tech and luxury. But Pogliani warned that it was still early days when it comes to any wearable product.
“How Vertu can fit in this space is what we are looking at at the moment,” Pogliani said. “For us, it will not be just another product — it has to deliver the full DNA in terms of design, materials and functionality.”
So what makes a Vertu product? Just look at the New Signature Touch, a smartphone powered by Google’s Android mobile software that is handcrafted from start to finish by an individual at the Vertu headquarters in the British countryside using premium materials such as alligator skin and sapphire crystal displays. Its marquee feature is the one-touch access to a human concierge service that the company promises will meet every need and request of its customers.
For Pogliani, the luxury element of Vertu products lies not only in their design, but in that extra level of service. “Our customers have a relationship man to man, rather than man to machine,” he says. “I don’t talk with Siri; I talk with a real person and that person takes care of me in a way only a real person can do with a level of sophistication and detail which these people are expecting.”
Vertu customers “live this extraordinary kind of life” and “expect the very best” when they are told they have access to a personalised concierge, he said. How this style of luxury will work in the wearables area, Pogliani hasn’t yet decided, but it’s clear he is watching to see how others are taking on the challenge.
“We will also see a lot of luxury brands — I’m not talking about Apple, I’m talking about the real luxury brands — regret what they have done today in this panic,” he said of the companies that have aligned with the technology giant. “Sleeping with your enemy can sometimes be very, very dangerous.”
With his comments, Pogliani was hinting at the deal that luxury brand Hermes struck with Apple to feature its leather band as an add-on to the Apple Watch. He was less critical of Apple.
“Apple, what they are trying to do is trying to extend their appeal going up towards that space, and for them they are doing the right things,” he said.
Apple and Hermes weren’t available for comment.
While Pogliani is skeptical about the alliances between Apple and Hermes, partnerships remain important to Vertu. It has a five-year collaboration deal with British car manufacturer Bentley, but don’t expect to see any smartwatches from the two anytime soon. Even though Pogliani wears a fitness tracker, he not convinced by the timepiece concept.
“I am wearing a luxury watch and not a luxury wearable,” he said. “For me, when I think wearables, I don’t think watch by definition. What I see today is ‘interesting’ — but is very, very gimmicky.”
One of the primary features for smartphones has been the ability to notify you of incoming messages and calls. But Pogliani knocked it, saying “it is not very elegant.”
Smartphones, after all, are an amalgam of many devices people used to own separately. If a wearable can only do half of what a smartphone does, but not as well, there isn’t much value in it, he said.
“I believe strongly in wearables, but more in personal objects that capture your personal data that is special to yourself and this is used to deliver you information about your health, your fitness level — this I believe is a nice companion,” he said.