Smartwatches Play Big At Mobile World Congress

 

Pebble’s new watch pulls in £1m in Kickstarter funding in 40 minutes and this was just days before Apple revealed more details about the iWatch

Connected dials on your wrist could be the new tech battleground.

In Barcelona there were plenty of new phones on show – after all they are the raison d’etre of what is nowadays called Mobile World Congress.

But, this year, the device that most people were talking about was technology for your wrist.

Smartbands that record and track your fitness regime are now well established, and there were plenty of new variants on display.

Many manufacturers have extended their capabilities to become phone companions – displaying caller or text information and calendar appointments.

Some have gone a further step and embedded a Sim card in the watch, so it’s an independent way to stay online.

One of the first watches that could partner your Android or iPhone was the Pebble, which began as a Kickstarter project in 2012.

It uses an e-paper screen, like a Kindle, so consumes tiny amounts of electricity and can last a week without needing to be charged.

The funding call back then was quickly exceeded – and this year, history repeated itself.

Last month, Pebble returned to Kickstarter, seeking $500,000 (£332,000) to develop their new watch, which they have called Pebble Time.

 

And this week at MWC, Eric Migicovsky their charismatic CEO, had a further surprise for supporters and investors.

He announced a second new watch, this time in stainless steel.

Once again Kickstarter surpassed expectations as Pebble received commitments of $1m in just 40 minutes and, at the time of writing, now stands in excess of $16m, with the option open until the end of March.

It is timely that sports firms, jewellers and tech companies got their wares in front of the world’s press when they did, as all this fell just a week ahead of  the new iWatch from Apple.

Migicovsky is sanguine about his prospects in the face of such competition, arguing there is room in the market for all.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” he says.

“We have been working on this for seven years, and now the world’s attention is focusing on smartwatches.”

By contrast, there was a very different phone on offer from Huawei, the Chinese electronics giant.

Their new watch was a circular design, 42mm across and takes its aesthetic from classic gentleman’s jewellery.

It looks the part too – with a familiar watch face and hand design – even though the whole thing is an optical illusion. In truth, it is just a screen.

Ben Norton, the British designer leading the project, says the features ape a traditional watch “using metal in the case, the top ring, and a single crown … [giving] the phone a very luxury feel”.

 

Of all the new phones on offer in Barcelona, the Samsung Galaxy S6 probably stole the show.

The launch event on Sunday evening was spectacular in its scale, with several thousand analysts, supporters and journalists subjected to a huge light and sound show.

J K Shin, Samsung President and CEO, hailed the new phone.

“We listen to our customers, and learn from our mistakes,” he told the packed auditorium – and later celebrated the strength of the phone’s metal casing.

“This phone won’t bend,” he said in one of many allusions to the new iPhone 6 and 6+, which are believed to have taken market share away from Samsung.

HTC announced a phone that was barely different from its predecessor.

While similar is size and form, the HTC One M9 has a better processor and a redesigned, simpler user interface.

Now, the Sense UI recognises whether you are at home or in the car, or at the office and reorganises the home screen accordingly.

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