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Time did not stop for the smartwatch market after Apple announced its entry last September. Although big players such as Google and Samsung have not yet revealed their responses to the forthcoming iPhone companion, several other players have tried to head off Apple’s launch.
Leading the underdog pack, Pebble Time this week became the most-funded Kickstarter project ever, raising more than $16m on the crowdfunding site. The start-up’s device has a face with epaper colour display that allows for several days of battery life and with a cheaper $199 price than Apple’s “Retina Display” and its flashier “Steel” model is unlikely to challenge Apple in the fashion stakes.
At the other end of the market, Swiss luxury brand Montblanc has dipped its toe into the technology world with the e-Strap. This $300 add-on puts a small display on the underside of a watch band, so that its mechanical timepieces — which can sell for more than $10,000 — remain uncluttered by screens.
Even Swatch, whose chief executive two years ago dismissed the threat of “revolution” from an “interactive terminal on your wrist”, said recently it would launch a smartwatch “in the next two or three months”. The device’s communication and payment features promise to work with Android and Windows phones (but perhaps not iPhones).
Even though Google has not made significant updates to Android Wear since it launched last summer, manufacturers have continued to come up with new devices based on its wearables operating system. Huawei stole the show at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week with its circular-faced smartwatch, which was created by former Fossil watch designer Ben Norton.
However, analysts expect Apple to outsell them all in short order. Sales forecasts for its Watch range from 8m to as many as 20m between its April debut and the end of the year.
With Monday’s launch event likely to focus on third-party apps rather than many new features of its own, the industry is looking to Apple to explain to consumers why they need a smartwatch at all.
“I continue to believe that the Apple Watch coming out will float all boats,” says Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.