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Smart Watch, Band Market A Tight Fit?

BARCELONA, SPAIN — The smart-watch and smartband markets grew more crowded at the Mobile World Congress, where many of the new wearables were launched by well-funded smartphone suppliers whose entries could crowd out smaller players.

The smart-watch launches included Huawei’s first model, an expanded selection from LG, and a new stainless-steel model from Pebble.

Also at the show, Huawei launched its second-generation fitness band with detachable Bluetooth headset, and HTC expanded its presence in wearables by unveiling its first fitness band and its first virtual reality headset.

Many of the new smart-watch entries – LG’s Urbane, LG’s Urbane LTE, the Huawei Watch, and Pebble’s Pebble Time Steel – target the premium niche with stainless-steel models. The introductions also included the industry’s first LTE-equipped smartwatch, which is the LG LTE Urbane with built-in calling and texting.

The introductions also underscored that the Android Wear OS will coexist with multiple smart-watch OSs, including Apple’s new time piece. LG’s LTE-equipped LTE Urbane, for example, runs a proprietary LG wearables OS, while its Watch Urbane runs standard Android Wear, as does Huawei’s first smart watch. Samsung has also split its smart-watch offering between Android Wear and its own OS. Pebble uses its own OS for compatibility with Android and Apple phones.

The launches will contribute to a U.S. wrist-worn wearables market that “will split in three directions this year,” said Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Mawston. “Apple Watch will capture the premium market, Samsung Gear will take the midrange, and Chinese players like TCL-Alcatel will address the low end,” he said.

He also said Hauwei’s first smart watch and new smart band represents a “strong start” in wearables for the smartphone vendor. “Expect them to quickly become a top-10 wearables player [globally] this year,” he said.

LG also signified its intent to get more aggressive in wearables, Mawston said. “Adding 4G to smart watches, without making the form factor too thick, is technologically complex right now due to component immaturity,” he said of LG’s achievement. LG is also “taking a bold step by dismissing Android Wear for its top wearable model in the first half,” he added. “LG is obviously attacking the global smartwatch market very aggressively this year, and — along with Huawei and Xiaomi — LG is ‘one to watch’ in wearables throughout 2015.”

Here’s what coming to retail:

HTC: The smartphone maker unveiled its first fitness band, which was developed with sportsapparel maker Under Armour, and its first VR headset debuted. They will join the company’s RE periscopeshaped video camera as part of HTC’s planned transformation into a personal technology company that offers more than just smartphones.

The HTC Grip fitness band, equipped with GPS, is the first product developed with sports-apparel maker Under Armour, which has been expanding into fitness apps. The device will be available s in North America in the spring at, Under Armour, Academy Sports + Outdoors, AT&T, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority and Walmart.

The band captures workout data across a range of sports and activities including biking, weightlifting, and running. It also detects and records sleep time and connects to Bluetooth-enabled accessories such as the Under Armour A39 heart-rate monitor. The Grip is compatible with Android 4.3+ and iOS 7.0+ smartphones.

It is the first product offering deep integration with Under Armour’s UA Record app, which analyzes the user’s workout, accesses the user’s social community, and provides exclusive content.

With integrated GPS turned on, Grip captures route, distance, pace and calories burned, all of which sync with the UA Record app in real time to deliver additional performance data. Users can also leave their phone at home and sync Grip with its smartphone app later on.

The contoured waterproof band, available in three sizes, features curved 1.8-inch curved-PMOLED 32 by 160 touchscreen with mono display, which displays real-time workout statistics and incoming-call and message notifications.

In partnership with Valve, HTC will launch a developer edition of its Vive VR headset in the spring, with the consumer edition due by the end of 2015.

Huawei: The smart watch and TalkBand B2 band will come to the U.S. at unspecified dates.

The Huawei Watch features 1.4-inch touch-sensitive AMOLED 400 by 400 pixel display with 286 PPI, 10,000:1 contrast ratio, and scratch-proof sapphire crystal lens. The watch’s crown, frame and hinge are built from scratch-resistant cold-forged stainless steel for hardness. It comes with magnetic charging station.

The touchscreen displays more than 40 different watch faces, and different watch straps are available.

The watch also incorporates a range of health-tracking functions, including a built-in heart-rate monitor, six-axis motion sensor, and barometer to automatically track realtime walking, running, biking, hiking or sleeping. Users can monitor the number of calories burned, heart rate, climbing height, steps taken and distance traveled.

When paired with Android 4.3+ smartphones, the watch receives SMS, email, calendar, app and call notifications.

The TalkBand B2 wrist strap features a more business- like professional design than its predecessor. Its rectangular display doubles as a detachable Bluetooth in-ear headset with dual-microphone and smart detection. The latter feature knows when the Bluetooth earpiece is in the wristband or not, allowing the headset to automatically receive a call or play music.

It also features six-axis sensor to record motion, the duration of deep and light sleep, and provide consumers with tips on improving their sleep pattern.

The device pairs with smartphones running Android 4.0 and IOS 7.0 and up.

The recommended retail of a premium version with leather strap is 199 euros.

LG: The company’s first two all-metal smartwatches are the Android Wear-based LG Urbane and LG Watch Urbane LTE, which runs on the company’s LG Wearable Platform OS.

They will join the $299 G Watch R, an Android Wear watch launch last October as the industry’s first smartwatch with full circular plastic OLED (POLED) touchscreen. Both new watches feature the G Watch’s 1.3-inch full-circle P-OLED display.

The G Watch R was designed for active users, but the Urbane’s thinner profile and narrower bezel, choice of silver or gold finish, and stitched leather strap positions it as a luxury smart watch for men and women, the company said. The strap can be replaced with any 22mm-wide band.

The Urbane features touch-based UI, compatibility with smartphones running Android 4.3 and above, and heart rate sensor to measure a wearer’s heart rate and average pulse during exercise.

The LG Watch Urbane LTE features NFC for use as a mobile wallet, a built-in heart rate monitor, motion sensors to track fitness goals, and specialized features for golfers, cyclists and hikers. A 700mAH battery is said to be the largest in the smart-watch category to deliver “days” of standby time, the company claimed. Three physical buttons on the right side access select functions without swiping through multiple menu screens, the company said.

Prices and release dates weren’t announced.

Pebble: The Pebble Time Steel is the premium allmetal version of the recently unveiled Pebble Time, which features stainless-steel bezel.

Both feature color e-paper display. Both have been launched on Kickstarter, and both are compatible with all 6,500-plus Pebble apps available for use on Pebble’s open platform. They offer fitness tracking, notifications and music control.

Compared to other Pebbles, both add a time-centric operating system that displays a mix of notifications, reminders, emails, and events in chronological order. Users can scroll back in time to view missed notifications and emails and scroll forward to see upcoming events and weather reports.

Both also add a water-resistant microphone to respond by voice to messages. Voice response is compatible with most major Android apps but, on iOS devices, only with G Mail notifications.

Pebble Time offers up to seven days of battery life and a silicone band. Pebble Time Steel offers up to 10 days of battery life and comes with two straps: stainless steel and leather. Straps can be replaced with any standard 22mm watch band.

Time Steel is priced for Kickstarter backers at $250. The regular price is $299. It ships in July following May shipments of the Pebble Time, priced at a regular $199.