Kronaby talks building smarter hybrids without sacrificing design

The Swedish startup on what comes next, including payments and voice control

In the world of hybrid smartwatches, where the likes of Fossil, Movado and Swiss watch brands like Frederique Constant and Mondaine now play, Swedish startup Kronaby is aiming to hold its own by continuing to add to its already sizeable collection of stylish hybrids.

At this year's Baselworld, 11 new models were introduced to the Kronaby family. In terms of connected features, it's more of the same, with the emphasis on new looks. And that includes its first hybrid to feature a sub-dial, which gives users more data on the wrist.

Read this: Best smartwatches to buy right now

Kronaby had more than new models to talk about, including its first collection of smart straps that will bring contactless payments to the range courtesy of a collaboration with Barclays and its bPay platform. The Kronaby straps are set to launch in May. Kronaby is also readying its first hybrids that include NFC to unlock the ability to make payments directly from the watch. There's no news on when those will launch though, as the startup is still deciding the best territories to roll them out in.

"The good thing is that there's no impact on the watches, in terms of thickness", said Pål Borge co-founder and CEO of Kronaby on the introduction of built-in payment features. "I think we actually have one of the best antenna players in the world and that's because it has been brought over from the mobile world. You will not notice it."

Another device Kronaby is toying with right now is a location tracker that can be worn anywhere or clipped onto a bag, for example. Used in combination with the watch and an app on your smartphone, the idea is that if the thing the location tracker is attached to goes walkies, it'll send a vibration to the watch prompting you to go to the app and hunt it down. Kronaby is well aware that location tracking devices are not new, but it does believe it has a unique ecosystem that could help them bring something original to the concept.

How users can shape future smarts

Kronaby on building smarter hybrids without compromising on design

A new addition on the software front is Kronaby Labs, a place where users can opt in to test features before they are rolled out officially, and feel more involved in the process of deciding what features should be added. I'm shown a simple example of how tapping one of the pushers on a watch activates the watch hands, pointing to the 7 and the 5 on the watch face to indicate that there is 75% of battery life on the watch.

Kronaby Labs will help provide valuable feedback on what users want and would actually find useful to have on a hybrid smartwatch. But the startup already has some insights into what people are making most use of on its current watches. In the UK, WhatsApp is heavily used for notifications, and people are making great use of its activity tracking and find my phone features.

What's next for hybrids

Kronaby on building smarter hybrids without compromising on design

While Kronaby is starting to explore other devices, it's still very much focused on hybrids and feels the popularity of smart analogue watches will only continue to grow over the coming years.

"We still strongly believe in it," Borge says. "We really feel like we can add more functionality, but the key thing is to find the killer things that make the difference and you continue to pack them in in a beautiful way. I have difficulty seeing why hybrid smartwatches will not really take off in the future.

"We come from Sony Mobile where we could do the most advanced things but the approach we have now is to be picky about these features because you could destroy everything by overloading it with a lot of things. The key is is to keep it simple."

Kronaby on building smarter hybrids without compromising on design

A feature that could find its way into Kronaby watches in the future is voice control – something we've really only seen crop up on more full-fat smartwatches. "Voice control could be something we look at," he says. "I see my daughter and she doesn't tap on anything any more. She's talking to everything with Siri. So maybe this something we need to consider."

With a clear focus on hybrids, it seems that the idea of a full smartwatch to rival what the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google's Wear OS watches currently offer is not on the Kronaby agenda right now. But that doesn't mean it won't be at some point in the future. "At the moment we think people want something really beautiful," Borge explains.

"We are not saying that you can't make a smartwatch really beautiful. But maybe when aspects like battery life improve, we will not exclude the idea of it. We are seeing how other companies are now putting small digital displays into hybrid watches. For the time being Kronaby will remain a hybrid watch."




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