The Smartwatch Revolution Isn't Waiting

The leading tech companies are maneuvering for a titanic battle to win market share in the upcoming battle for smartwatch buyers.
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In a recent Google infomercial (also known as the movie The Internship), the main characters, played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, lose their jobs as wristwatch salesmen because “everything is computerized now.” In desperation, they do the only logical thing, which is to try out for Google internships.

That idea was as unlikely to succeed as it was unrealistic. (The only less realistic thing about the movie was its depiction of a Google phone tech support help line.)

Instead, our bumbling heroes should have stuck it out in the wristwatch racket, because watches are about to come back in a major way.

And, yes, everything is computerized now.

But the wristwatch is doomed, right? After all, nobody wears watches anymore.

Who in their right mind would sell a wristwatch that connects to the Internet, providing the user with notifications, incoming chat and social messages and possibly runs apps?

Nobody, really, except for Apple, Google, Microsoft, Intel, Sony, Samsung, LG and at least a dozen international startups.

Smartwatches Getting Smarter, But Silicon Valley Is Late!

The conventional impulse has been for everyone to wait for rumored or announced smartwatches from the tech giants. Yes, the rumors and accompanying factoids (such as patents) are plausible.

Intel’s CTO Justin Rattner said this week that Intel is working on “novel display devices” that live on your wristand feed you smartphone information. Rumors persist that Intel could be working with Apple on their rumored iWatch.

Google’s Android group is reportedly working on a smartwatch, presumably one that takes advantage of service infrastructure from the company’s Glass project.

Samsung executive VP Lee Young Hee confirmed in March that the company is “working very hard” to produce a smartwatch.

The Korea Times reported in March that tech giant LG is also working on a smartwatch, as well as a competitor to Google Glass.

Another report emerging in April says that former Microsoft Xbox and Kinect team members had already built a prototype Microsoft smartwatchthat connects to the company’s Surface tablet.

If the idea of a Microsoft smartwatch sounds unlikely, you should know that Microsoft pioneered the concept back in the 1990s. I personally owned a Timex Datalink watch, co-developed by Microsoft, which magically synchronized with a PC when you held it up to the screen and ran the sync app. Flashing on-screen lights transmitted the data.

So, yes, it appears likely that pretty much every major company that makes consumer electronics is working furiously on the development of a smartwatch. But the world isn’t waiting. Sony doesn’t just have a rumored or announced smartwatch, they’ve already shipped one, open-sourced it and announced a second version.

The first Sony Smartwatch gained a few fans, but lacked key features and had a limiting software user interface. Surprisingly, Sony announced an Open SmartWatch project last week that invites developers to create and flash their own firmware for the Sony SmartWatch.

Yesterday, Sony announce a new, second version of the watch. The SmartWatch 2 is similar to its previous version, but adds NFC support for pairing to an Android smartphone, a higher resolution screen that looks better in sunlight, better user interface, more apps, water resistance and better battery life. The SmartWatch 2 is scheduled to ship in September and no price has been announced.

One of the most successful smartwatches to date is a Kickstarter-funded product called the Pebble Smartwatch. Featuring an e-Paper display, the watch excels at longish battery life and sunlight readability. It also has an open SDK for third-party app development. Just this week, Pebble announced new support for the Google Hangouts app. And it connects to both iPhones and Android.

Another watch called the Kreyos Meteor Smartwatchrelays voice to the smartphone its paired with. For example, you can interact with Siri via the watch on an iPhone. You can also hold your calls via the watch like it was a speakerphone lashed to your arm. It also responds to gestures using an internal gyroscope. By waving your hand around while wearing it, you can answer the phone, or change music. Developers will have access to the gesture API, and add custom-built gestures. The Kreyos was crowdfunded on Indegogo and expected to start shipping to early backers by November.

Another interesting watch is the Sonostar Smartwatch, which uses a black-and-white e-Ink display for high readability in sunlight. The Sonostar is designed to connect to both iPhone and Android phones to control the communication and music happening on the phone.

A crowdsourced watch called the Boddie Smartwatch comes from a Polish startup called Rearden Technology. It responds to motion control, and can even control the camera on a smartphone. A security feature enables it to be remotely locked if it’s lost or stolen. The developers claim it uses a fraction of the power of the Pebble Smartwatch. The Boddie probably won’t ship for another year or so at the earliest.

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Tags: smartphone, Gadgets, smartwatch

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