New Smartwatches for Women Put Style First / 2015

The Lutetia smartwatch, developed by Omate, a start-up based in Shenzhen, China, looks like a classic analog timepiece. But its face is actually a touch screen that a wearer can tap to see an incoming phone call or text message. Credit Omate
How do you get a piece of smart technology onto a woman’s wrist? It’s not as simple as it sounds. And it’s a question many watchmakers and technology developers have been mulling over for the last couple of years. The consensus seems to be that women are not attracted to “geeky” models with blocky flat-panel displays.
When it comes to a smartwatch, women “pay more attention to the product’s external design, the brand’s image and fashion status, and use of precious metals,” said Sulabh Madhwal, a personal accessories industry analyst at Euromonitor International, a market research firm based in London.
Women are interested in smart wearables, however, almost as much as men.
In a report issued last year by the NPD Group, a market research firm, a survey of 1,800 Canadians found that 25 percent of the men said they would be interested in purchasing a smartwatch, against about 18 percent of women.
There are roughly three categories of design: smart “bracelets” that tell the time; flat-panel digital watches with a feminine setting; and analog-style watches with a few smart capabilities.
Some come as stand-alone devices, but for the moment most of the smart wearables aimed at women are focused on notification features rather than a wide range of gadgetry.
“Ninety percent of the smartwatches now are companion watches, meant to be used alongside a smartphone,” said Laurent Le Pen, founder and chief executive of Omate, which designed the Lutetia smartwatch specifically for women.
“The rest are geek watches,” he said. “They’re more complex, but they’re not appealing to any women.”
The most visible player in the women’s smartwatch arena is the MICA bracelet, a collaboration between the chipmaker Intel and the fashion house Opening Ceremony, based in California.
Shown during New York Fashion week in September, the MICA was heralded as the first luxury smartwatch for women.
“Our research found that women today are very active, both socially and professionally, and want to be ‘in the know’ at all times,” Aysegul Ildeniz, vice president of the new devices group at Intel, said in an email.
“We also found that wearables were not fashionable enough for women to wear in their everyday lives,” she said. “It became clear that what was needed in the space was a product that would conveniently deliver the information a woman needs, while also being desirable to wear.”
Inside, it has an Intel XMM6321 3G cellular radio chip “to enable untethered communications, so that relying on a smartphone is not required,” Ms. Ildeniz said.
“The end result looks like a fashionable statement piece and not a piece of technology,” she said. “The textiles and precious stones distinguish the bracelet in the realm of smartwatches, health and fitness bands, and clip-on covers.”
There are several similar bracelets with fashionable designs.
Examples include the Ibis watch by the Finnish company Creoir, and the Memi, an iPhone-compatible, Bluetooth-enabled bracelet from Smartwatch Group, a thick silver bangle that vibrates when notifications come through on a phone.
The marketing strategy, as articulated in the Memi online video campaign, which shows mothers pushing strollers and women in business meetings, is to appeal to busy women who may want to “unplug without disconnecting from the people who matter most.”
Omate, a start-up based in Shenzhen, China, that was initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, is banking on this strategy with its third watch, the Lutetia. “Some smartwatches are just saying, ‘We’re putting a white strap on the watch and now it’s a smartwatch for women,”’ Mr. Le Pen said by telephone. “We had the feeling this was the wrong approach.”
With a smallish 40-millimeter round watch face covered with sapphire-coated glass, and a beaded metallic band that comes in silver, rose gold and gold, from afar the watch looks like an analog model.
On closer inspection, it turns out to have a touch-screen that is a transflective liquid crystal display.
When the wearer receives a phone call, text message or other notification, it vibrates, and she can tap the screen and see the incoming information.
Omate joined with two large technology developers, the semiconductor manufacturer MediaTek and the semiconductor designer ARM. The watch is powered by MediaTek’s Aster MT2502 platform and runs on the Nucleus RTOS operating system.
Mr. Le Pen said that while he was glad the companies worked with Omate, for the Lutetia, the real challenge was coming up with a design that would appeal to women.
“We felt that we are not competing with Samsung, LG, Motorola or Apple,” he said. “We are competing with women’s fashion brands such as Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Guess. It’s a totally different approach.”
“We’re not speaking about technology,” he added. “We’re more focused on the look and feel and the user experience.”
Guess recently announced a plan to work with a California start-up, Martian Watches, to make a voice-command watch in 2015.
Martian, founded seven years ago, was also funded by Kickstarter. It is best known for watches with voice-command technology that can be used in place of a smartphone.
Stan Kinsey, the company’s president, said that the main attraction for most buyers remains the notifier features, and that the company sells about 50 percent of its notifier watches to women.
“The important thing for a woman is being able to keep her phone in her purse or her bag and still knowing what’s going on,” Mr. Kinsey said by telephone. “We’ve tried to focus on that.”
“And we’ve been able to give her a watch that has custom vibration patterns, almost like a Morse code so that she knows what’s going on without looking,” he added. ” If you’re dining with a friend, you don’t really want to have to look at your phone. Or even look at your watch.”
The Martian is an analog quartz watch with a Japanese movement; a 40-millimeter watch face; a regular, elevated dial; and parts that move.
It also has a small bar inside the watch face where notifications of incoming calls or text messages scroll across a small screen called an OLED readout, which looks like a ticker tape typing out information. Models come in black, white and red.
“Analog watches have been around, and they’re still the most popular high-end watch design, so we’ve said, what if we started with a classic watch and made it smart?” Mr. Kinsey said. “Mostly it’s a fashion piece that people are wearing, but it’s also a convenience.”
The real challenge of developing a fashionable smartwatch, he said, is packing all the technology of a smartphone into an elegant watch case.
“We’re all fortunate that large watches have been in style for a couple of years and remain that way,” he said.
“There are many women that look at not just our watch, at 42 millimeters, but also other watches of about that size and say they’re fine with them,” he added. “We have over 130 components inside, so it’s hard to get down to a smaller size.”
Correction: January 20, 2015 
An earlier version of this article misstated the availability of information regarding the collaboration between the Guess fashion company and Martian watches on a voice-command watch. The watch was released in early January. It is not the case that no details have been released about the collaboration.

 

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