From a technological standpoint, Apple’s first wearable product includes several impressive features, including a pressure-sensitive Force Touch display and a small, but powerful, S1 SiP (System in Package) chip. But with multiple band, casing, and size options to choose from among the three watch collections offered by Apple, the device is as much a fashion accessory as it is a tech gadget. The high-end Watch Edition variants of the device even feature casings crafted from 18-karat gold, a material that is not normally associated with tech products except when it is used internally to make electrical connectors.
So while the Apple Watch will compete against tech-focused wearables such as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatches or Jawbone’s fitness bands, it may also be a rival to traditional luxury watches. Thanks in part to the stylish design of Apple’s still unreleased product; several traditional watchmakers have introduced fashion-focused smartwatches that are intended to challenge the Apple Watch in this crossover market segment. Here are four fashionable smartwatches that may compete with the Apple Watch.
1. Swatch smartwatch
Switzerland-based company Swatch became the latest traditional watchmaker to enter the burgeoning wearable market when it recently announced that it would be releasing a smartwatch within the next three months, reports Bloomberg. According to Swatch CEO Nick Hayek, the device will include Near Field Communications (NFC) technology and will not have to be charged.
Although Hayek didn’t offer any details about how the device would power its electronics, the report noted that Swatch has multiple patents for various kinds of long-lasting batteries. The company’s Tissot brand already features touchscreen-enabled devices that utilize solar power, so it is possible that the smartwatch could be powered by a combination of both technologies. Hayek told Bloomberg that the device would be compatible with both Android and Windows software. According to a Swatch representative contacted by Gizmodo, the smartwatch would also be able to connect to the Internet.
Hayek told Bloomberg that the company has plans for a mobile payments system for the smartwatch. The payments system appears to be Swatch’s answer to Apple Pay, while the device’s ability to operate without needing a charge may have been highlighted because of the recent rumors about the Apple Watch’s short battery life. Insider sources that spoke with 9to5Mac claimed that Apple was having difficulty achieving its goal of around “19 hours of combined active/passive use” per charge.
Swatch’s decision to enter the smartwatch market represents a change of heart for its CEO. Hayek previously expressed skepticism about the potential technological capabilities of wrist worn wearables. “Personally, I don’t believe it’s the next revolution,” said Hayek at a press conference last year, according to Bloomberg. “Replacing an iPhone with an interactive terminal on your wrist is difficult. You can’t have an immense display.”
Since Swatch specializes in making colorful plastic watches, its upcoming smartwatch will most likely be a competitor to Apple’s Watch Sport and standard Watch models, rather than its high-end gold Watch Edition models. Still, as a company with plenty of experience in making fashion-focused watches, Swatch’s upcoming smartwatch could end up being a major rival to Apple’s device, especially if the company’s claims about the device not needing to be charged turns out to be true.
2. TAG Heuer smartwatch
Swatch isn’t the only traditional watchmaker that decided to enter the smartwatch market after seeing the Apple Watch. Soon after Apple’s media event last September, TAG Heuer — a watch brand owned by luxury goods group LVMH — revealed to a Swiss newspaper that it would be developing its own smartwatch, reported Reuters. Although LVMH executive Jean-Claude Biver harshly criticized the Apple Watch design as amateurish and “too feminine” when it was first unveiled, as reported by The Telegraph, he has apparently since learned to appreciate the device.
“It’s a fantastic product, an incredible achievement,” Biver told Bloomberg. “I’m not just living in the tradition and culture and the past, I also want to be connected to the future. The Apple Watch connects me to the future. My watch connects me to history, to eternity.” Biver noted that TAG Heuer’s smartwatch will have GPS and health-monitoring functions, as well as exclusive applications that could tie in to sports that the company sponsors. Biver also told Bloomberg that the company had to enlist the help of several Silicon Valley tech companies in order to create its device.
Few details have been revealed about TAG Heuer’s upcoming device, including the estimated price. However, since Biver told Bloomberg that the Apple Watch was a threat to “watches priced at less than $2,000,” it can be assumed that the TAG Heuer smartwatch will be priced in the same range. Although the LVMH executive declined to provide a specific launch date for the TAG Heuer smartwatch, Biver previously told Reuters that the earliest the device would be ready to launch would be late 2015.
3. Montblanc e-Strap
German luxury goods maker Montblanc is also taking aim at the fashion-focused smartwatch market with a unique accessory that can potentially turn any traditional timepiece into a connected device. The e-Strap device features a small touchscreen display and is designed to attach to a watchband. Using the Bluetooth Low Energy communication protocol, the e-Strap relays various notifications from a user’s smartphone, such as text messages, email previews, phone numbers of incoming calls, social media updates, and meeting reminders.
The e-Strap includes a “Find-Me” feature that allows a user to locate a connected smartphone, or use the smartphone to locate the e-Strap. The device can also function as an activity tracker and as a remote control for a smartphone’s camera and music player. The e-Strap is compatible with both Android and iOS mobile devices. While Montblanc sells the e-Strap as a separate product for 350 euros ($396), the company also offers the device with several different variants of its TimeWalker Urban Speed timepieces. Those watches range in price from 2,990 euros ($3,384), up to 4,690 euros ($5,308).
Since the e-Strap is intended to appeal to luxury watch owners who prefer to keep their traditional timepieces, Montblanc’s unusual device may attract the same type of customer who would be willing to pay thousands of dollars for a gold Apple smartwatch. On the other hand, since Montblanc’s e-Strap only features a low-resolution monochrome display, some consumers may feel it is better to spend about the same amount of money to get an entry-level Apple Watch with a full-color screen.
4. Hewlett-Packard’s Michael Bastian-designed smartwatch
As reported by Tech Cheat Sheet last August, Hewlett-Packard teamed up with fashion designer Michael Bastian to create the MB Chronowing, a smartwatch that launched exclusively through online retailer Gilt last year, but is now also available through Hewlett-Packard’s website. According to Hewlett-Packard, a standard silver-colored stainless steel model costs $350, while a limited edition all-black model costs $650. This stylish smartwatch may be the closest competitor to the Apple Watch since it has an identical entry-level model price and can be linked with both iOS and Android smartphones. Like Apple’s devices, the MB Chronowing also features interchangeable bands for different looks.
Like many smartwatches, the MB Chronowing uses a Bluetooth connection to relay various notifications from a connected mobile device, including emails, texts, and calendar appointments. The device can also function as a remote for a smartphone’s music player. However, the MB Chronowing’s water resistance up to 50 meters and its ability to have up to seven days of battery life may be its most impressive features if consumers are comparing it to the Apple Watch. According to sources cited by 9to5Mac, Apple was struggling to get a full day’s worth of usage out of the Apple Watch battery, while Cult of Mac reported that Apple’s wearable would only be resistant to splashes of water.
Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS
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