We live in an age defined by portable computing, but nailing wearable computing has –at least so far –proven to be much more elusive.  While there has been a lot of soul-searching occasioned by things like Google Glass and so-called smart watches (which, thus far, have been more notable for interesting failures than resounding successes, although I’m still waiting with bated breath for a chance to go hands-on with an Apple Watch) making wearable tech as ubiquitous and universally appealing as the smart-phone is a goal no one’s managed to meet.  It may be a goal –at least in terms of ubiquity and popularity –that is inherently un-meetable; the smart watch, for instance, has still not leaped into the kind of sharp, immediately intuitively appealing focus that the smart phone enjoys in part because so far, smart watches basically offer nothing new –they do what a smart phone does, only less well.  After all, the iPhone was the success that it was not because it tried to imitate the desktop computing experience –there were smart phones that preceded it that tried to do that, and they remained essentially niche products –but because it created an entirely new kind of experience, with immediate intuitive appeal.  It didn’t re-frame an existing narrative and experience, it created a new one, and one that made sense right away.  At least so far, those worried that the smart watch might bump the mechanical watch off high net worth wrists around the world have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Against this background, Montblanc’s just introduced an extremely interesting take on the smart watch –only it’s not a smart watch, it’s a smart strap. The Montblanc TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap makes no attempt to create a grand new IT experience –instead, it’s an accessory to a collection of mechanical watches.  The e-sStrap itself is a discreet rectangle of stainless steel with a flat black rubber housing designed to keep it from being marred by accidental impacts, and it sits where most watches would have a buckle or clasp.  Functionality is not ambitious per se –the goal here is not to make something that’s a radical departure, but to give the convenience and utility of a smart watch and the aesthetic pleasure of a good mechanical watch at the same time.

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It’s a compelling idea.  The e-Strap ticks a lot of the must-have boxes: it’s an activity tracker; you get notifications and previews of emails, text messages and incoming calls, as well as social media updates; you can use it as a camera remote (for the camera on your smart phone) and control music playback.  Control is via a touch screen and although the available display real estate isn’t huge, it doesn’t need to be; Montblanc seems to have elected to make something comfortable and unobtrusive that gives you the essentials rather than everything but the kitchen sink.  Android 4.3 devices and up are supported, and all iPhones from the 4S up are supported as well.

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Montblanc being Montblanc, the strap itself is something a bit special; it’s made at the Montblanc Pelleteria in Florence, with a carbon-fibre-replicating texture, and it’s treated for resistance to heat, abrasion, and moisture; you get the tactile and sensual appeal of leather with the durability of a technical material.  Montblanc plans to release the e-Strap with three watches in the TimeWalker line –a chronograph, a UTC watch, and a three-hand-and-date watch, but the press release gives pricing for the e-Strap as a stand-alone device as well, compatible with all strap sizes between 20-22mm.

Despite being available as a stand-alone device Montblanc clearly intends the e-Strap to be best enjoyed as an ensemble with the TimeWalker watches designed to match it, which feature large-ish (42-43mm) cases, micro-bead-blasted or DLC steel cases, and sports-technical designs.  You can, if you want, get the watches without the e-Strap although it seems silly to pass up the latter, which is obviously meant to be part of the overall high-mech/high-tech package.

So, is it going to work?  Can you have your cake and eat it too?  The idea makes sense –a lot of sense –on a conceptual level but the devil is as always in the details and whether the e-Strap will prove a subtle but subtly addictive complement to a mechanical watch, or an ultimately obtrusive and unnecessary superfluity, remains to be seen; this is just by way of saying you can’t tell until you’ve got it on.  However I think there’s a lot of common sense at work in the idea, which is promising –don’t try to be all things to all people; instead, do what you need to do to fill the Montblanc brief of making luxury accessories that become essential companions in daily life.  At the very least, I’d love to try one out, which is a good sign . . . though what I really think would make it a must-have traveller’s companion is pairing it with a little something else from Montblanc . . .

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All TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap models will be available in markets in June 2015 with or without the e-Strap device.

TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap with e-Strap device (all prices German RSP incl. 19% VAT)

 Timewalker Urban Speed automatic e-Strap, 42mm – 2.990 euros

Timewalker Urban Speed UTC e-Strap– 3.990 euros

Timewalker Urban Speed chronograph e-Strap – 4.690 euros

E-Strap, compatible with iPhone 4S, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4 and upwards – 350 euros

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