Why Time Stands Still For Timepiece Advertising

September 9, 2016

This is an article I wrote back in 2013, but with the recent release of Apple’s ‘Watch’, I thought it was worth an edit and repost.

I was recently browsing the Apple website for something not very interesting, and after looking at a number of images throughout the site, realised that the clocks on ALL of the iPhone and iPad products were set to 9:41am! (There are rumours of some 9:42′s but I couldn’t find any!).

It’s totally true, go to the Apple website and have a look!

I got to wondering whether this had any significance to Apple’s brand, history or tech specs. I wondered if it related somehow to the late Steve Jobs? Was it the GPS co- ordinates or address of the HQ in Cupertino, California?*

Back in 2010, Scott Forstall, Apple’s Senior VP of iPhone Software at the time, was asked about the strange sequence of numbers and was happy to explain all:

“We design the keynotes so that the big reveal of the product happens around 40 minutes into the presentation. When the big image of the product appears on screen, we want the time shown to be close to the actual time on the audience’s watches. But we know we won’t hit 40 minutes exactly. And for the iPhone, we made it 42 minutes. It turned out we were pretty accurate with that estimate, so for the iPad, we made it 41 minutes. And there you are – the secret of the magic time.”

So there you go, problem solved and amazing fact learned. It makes me warm inside that Apple take this much care in the detail when promoting their products!

Apple Watch

Apple Watch

But with the recent release of the Watch, it occurred to me that the time on these product shots are all set, not to 9:41, but to 10:09. So I got to wondering what was so special about particular time. I understandable assumed, after learning about 9:41, that this probably meant that the Watch was revealed at the keynote just after 10 o’clock… turns out that’s not it at all! The real reason actually stems back almost a century, and is enshrined in the traditions of marketing and advertising timepieces.

In developing the Watch, Apple typically spared no attention to detail when designing the product. ‘Chief Design Officer’ Jonathan Ive told Bloomberg that the team ‘…immersed themselves in the history of horology…’ (the art of measuring time). During the R&D period, Ive invited watch historians and experts in antique timepieces to speak at Apple HQ in Cupertino. The Watch is undoubtedly a modern and complex piece of technology, but it’s interesting to see how even this day and age, Apple felt like they product would benefit from learning in detail about the history of the timepiece.

In setting the Watch to 10:09, Apple have simply followed in an advertising tradition which dates back to the 1920’s. According to a NY Times article, it’s thought that the Hamilton Watch Company were the first company to advertise their products with the clock set to 10:10.

In fact, if you look at ANY watch advert today, the chances are the time will still be around 10:10. The reasons for this are both aesthetic, and psychological. Most timepieces display the brand logo in the top centre of the dial, so, from a design point of view, setting the hands at 10:10 frames the brand logo perfectly. It also keeps the hands clear of any date or other displays which are often found beside the 3 or the 9.

Psychological research has also shown that consumers (the suckers that we are) are more likely to buy the product… if the clock looks ‘happy’. Hence the 10:10 ‘smile’. It’s interesting and quite comforting to note that even in the modern age of digital timepieces, the traditions of advertising are still being respected.

I urge you to Google search for clock or timepiece adverts and you’ll be hard pushed to find any which display a time other than 10:10 (or thereabouts!).

*Apple’s actual address is ‘Apple Campus, 1 Infinite Loop’ … how cool is that?