Apple faces smartwatch ambush

  • N Madhavan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 22, 2014 12:57 IST

This time, it is different. Or, maybe not.

Apple, which took the world twice by storm in the past decade, first by launching the iPhone, the gold-standard of the touchscreen smartphone with independent apps and later with its tablet successor, the iPad, had rivals groaning. Google’s Android platform gave a challenge but not before iPhone soared.

Things may be changing for the next category-defining product from the Cupertino stable: the Apple Watch — the wearable computer that links to the iPhone, guides users on fitness and diets, acts like a personal secretary with reminders and schedules and offers alerts on the go.

Apple Watch, due to hit the markets early next year, has formidable and innovative rivals waiting to ambush the giant.

In India, a challenge kicks off on Wednesday, when fashion watch maker Martian Watches, also based in California, is due to launch its iPhone and Android-phone integrated Notifier brand with many comparable features on online retailer in an exclusive tie-up, though Martian says Apple Watch is in a “different genre”.

The gizmo has apps and notifications linked to smartphones. It lacks the voice command of Apple Watch, but Martian expects its newer variants to hit India later and says only the Siri software’s less-than-perfect Indian accent compatibility is keeping it from India. At `9,999 to Apple Watch’s indicative $349 (Rs 21,000), the price holds a punch. Shipping starts on October 1.

“The young team at Flipkart is empowered to take decisions and very quickly we were able to arrive at an understanding on our engagement and launch the product much earlier than we expected,” Stan Kinsey, president of Martian Watches, told HT by email.

Fitness regime driven smartwatches have been around for a while, and more are on the way.

Sony, Samsung and LG have had elementary Android-compatible smartwatches out in the Indian market, though they have not made big waves yet. But Android Wear, the smartwatch OS championed by Google, appears poised to be well in time to take on Apple.

Technology blog reports that Motorola is quietly launching in India its Moto 360 — the watch equivalent of Moto X that has created waves in the market. It is expected to available later this month. Flipkart has listed the Moto 360 under the “coming soon” tag.

HTC is gearing up to launch its Android Wear smartwatch in early 2015 — the same time as Apple Watch.

A lot will depend on how the market plays out, industry researcher Gartner said earlier this week. It says by 2015, Android-based smartwatches will be available at an average price of $150 (Rs 6,000), aided by cut-price Chinese manufacturers.

Gartner analyst Annette Zimmerman noted in a report this week that the Sony Smartwatch and Samsung Gear did not quite click big because of “unclear value proposition and flawed design” but added that Android Wear offers a slew of hot features — such as voice search, turn by turn navigation, contextual reminders and voice-based experience.

New kinds of business models may also change the game.

Earlier this month, Dubai-based Tupelo launched its fitness tracker, mymo, in India. Tupelo sells its trackers (no watch in them) bundled with subscription services that help buyers monitor their health and fitness over the Internet. It plans to link 25 diagnostic parameters from a single device and introduce wireless monitoring of blood pressure.

“The Apple Watch coming in in excess of Rs 20,000 as a single product, compared to (our) Rs ,999 service that includes mymo and a mobile doctors service,” says Martyn Molnar, Tupelos CEO.

However, the Apple Watch has a lot of features. Its wrist wear can be a payment device with the Apple Pay integration and also serve as a media remote.

“The Apple Watch seems intent to be a synthesis of many other smartwatches, trying to knit together all of these features into a coherent whole,” says technology website Cnet’s writer Scott Stein.

Think of voice-activated controls, swipe-to-glance features and even compatibility with other devices in which Apple could score.
And more apps and services are on the way, of which we do not know much yet. These could make Apple Watch stand out on overall experience. If that clicks, Apple CEO Tim Cook may yet have the last laugh.

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