Welcome to another edition of Week in wearable tech – brought to you from a rooftop pool in Barcelona, kind of. That's where I was yesterday anyway. Before you start to hate me, I was transcribing an interview, not swimming above the city.
I was in Barcelona for Fossil's swanky #FossilFirsts event at the W Hotel overlooking the beach. It was all about fashion and tech and Fossil was showing off all its latest slimmer hybrid watches, including the Q Accomplice, which I'm reviewing this week.
What was really fascinating for me was spending two days in the company of pure fashion people - editors, stylists and fashion assistants from magazines like Marie Claire and Stylist. These are the kinds of fashion focused people Fossil and its brands - Michael Kors, Kate Spade, DKNY, Emporio Armani, Marc Jacobs - are really targeting with this year's collections. I got to see how they reacted to the watches, what questions they had - where's the music? - and how long it took them to pair the device to their phone. Most illuminating was an informal masterclass in Instagram pics - virgin Mojito, pool, watch, outfit, snap. Expect a jump in the quality of my Instagram efforts on the Wareable account from now on...
Before the party proper began, I sat down with Antonio Nigro who is Fossil Group's VP for consumer electronics in Europe North. You can read our full chat here - it was good to get a sense of who Fossil is targeting, millennials and women from the sounds of things, and what the priorities have been for the last six months - slimming down all the watches.
By the end of the year the mission is to have launched 300 wearables - different styles not strictly different products in terms of tech - so for many people, especially anyone who is not that into tech but who lives and breathes fashion, one of these watches could be their intro into wearables. The touchscreen watches will make more of a splash, no doubt, but Fossil isn't banking everything on one device. It's not looking for Apple Watch sales from the Emporio Armani Connected, say, but a little bit like Garmin is offering huge amounts of variation - in this case in styles, materials, sizes rather than sports features - to loyal customers of its fashion brands.
There's plenty to improve on the tech side of things so I hope that Fossil's "fashion first" approach leaves room open for constructive criticism from the tech press too. It's already such a powerhouse and while other watch brands have done a nice job of recreating the polish and details of exciting watches on one product, Fossil is really doing a good job across many different styles and sizes. By the end of 2017, we should know if its bold plans are paying off.
Fresh Fitbit sequels for 2018
Coming from perhaps the complete opposite side of things is, of course, Fitbit which continues to struggle to build its first proper smartwatch if this week's rumours are to be believed. Reports in Bloomberg say that Fitbit has fallen behind on building its dedicated app store which James Park has been teasing from the start of the year. Not to mention the fact that staff apparently "never believed in" the project and see it as "sub standard".
We'll wait to see and use the actual product before we judge it but it sounds like Fitbit is seriously struggling to move outside its comfort zone of easy to use, comfortable fitness trackers. I refuse to believe that even at this stage, it's impossible that something more could be done with what's left of Pebble though. Since Fitbit bought Pebble I've been waiting for signs that Fitbit recognised what so many people loved about Pebble and would use that to its advantage.
Back to what we know it can do well and sources are indicating that we can expect a Blaze 2 and Charge 3 in 2018. No details yet other than to expect sleeker successors (and those launches were pretty much certain for next year or the year after) but still it's worth noting for anyone who is thinking about their first or next Fitbit.
Qualcomm and kids trackers
Kids trackers sell like crazy in China - at one point a single kids tracker was outselling all Samsung wearables - and they have the potential to do just as well in the US and Europe. So Qualcomm's move with its new Snapdragon 1200 chip, getting in early, is pretty damn clever.
It's 45% smaller than Qualcomm's previous processor designed for kids and pet trackers, allowing for smaller wearables, and as Qualcomm told Husain this week, it uses new narrowband LTE tech for ultra low power gadgets. The first trackers to use it will arrive in August and September and should be affordable too.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Qualcomm corner this market as it has done with high end smartwatches with the 2100. Intel seems to want to make a play for various categories in a similar vein but generally Qualcomm ends up on more of the mainstream wearables. Intel has worked on some interesting collaborations including devices like the Tag Modular 45 and Oakley Radar Pace. It doesn't need more one-offs, though, it needs a whole batch of really popular wearables like Qualcomm.
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