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Phone firms bet on 'year of smart watch'

02 March 2015, 11:35

Barcelona - Defying scepticism and geek-stigma, mobile phone firms are determined this year to sell you a wristwatch wirelessly connected to your mobile phone.

Numerous models have hit the market over the past year but 2015 will see an explosion, analysts say, with manufacturers making their watches and other wearable connected devices more elegant and useful.

US giant Apple's release of its first "smart watch" - expected by April - is set to make 2015 a "tipping point for wearables", research group CCS Insight said in a report.

In anticipation of that launch, Apple's Asian rivals scrambled to unveil their own connected wrist gadgets in Barcelona on Sunday on the eve of the World Mobile Congress trade show in Barcelona.

South Korean manufacturer LG released the Urbane LTE, its first fully connected luxury wristwatch which can make and receive calls - either with a wireless headset, or by speaking into your wrist like the comic book detective Dick Tracy.

Desirable product

Unlike most smart watch models, the chunky Urbane LTE version has its own network SIM card with a mobile connection and so can be used for calls, without needing to be linked to a smartphone.

Chinese telecom giant Huawei also unveiled a deluxe smart watch: A round stainless steel creation that it says can receive text messages, email and call notifications as well monitoring your heart rate and calories burned.

The industry is watching keenly to see whether smart watches will be the first mobile phone-linked "wearables" to really take off in the mass market - a tough call, according to analysts.

"In the end-user research that we've done, we asked people what a smart watch is for and they had no idea," said Ben Wood, head of research at CCS Insight.

With the big phone companies piling in alongside smaller smart watch specialists such as Pebble, fashion brands are doing their bit to try and design a more desirable product.

Several Swiss watchmakers and fashion brands such as Guess have unveiled designs, while jeweller Swarovski has encrusted smart watches with its crystals for a deluxe look.

"The vast majority of smart watches on the market are bulky and look more like a piece of technology than a fashion item," however, said Kevin Curran, a telecom specialist at the University of Ulster.

"That's going to change as companies focus more on design and making devices that are more discreet."

Fitness trackers

With their new circular watches, LG and Huawei positioned themselves at the luxury end of the market, differentiating themselves from the square-faced design revealed in previews by Apple.

"We set out to create smart watches that could contend for a spot on your wrist with a luxury mechanical watch," said LG's head for Britain and Ireland, Andrew Coughlin.

So far, the most successful wearables have been fitness trackers: Bands that measure heart rate, calories, sleep quality and other data and send it to an application on the wearer's smartphone.

Huawei and another big Chinese firm, HTC, on Sunday unveiled new "fitness bands".

Curran said that about 90 million wearables were sold in 2014. He forecast that figure could soar to 200 million this year.

The companies refused to cite consumer prices for the new products. Top-end smartphones and smart watches typically cost several hundred dollars (euros).


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