ZTE plans smart watch for 2014 to challenge Samsung, others

ZTE plans to launch a smart watch of its own in the second quarter of next year to challenge Samsung Electronics and others, according to Lu Qianhao, ZTE's head of handset marketing strategy.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lu said ZTE's smart watch will offer features that are similar to existing products such as Samsung's Galaxy Gear, but will be cheaper in an attempt to grab more market share, especially in China. "We are focusing on the mainstream market," he said.

The Gear can notify users of incoming messages, such as calls, texts, emails and alerts, and delivers a preview of those messages. Users can also conduct hands-free calls with the Gear using the device's built-in speaker, and can snap pictures and video with a 1.9-megapixel camera.

ZTE expects to announce smart watch in the first quarter of next year (perhaps at a trade show such as the Consumer Electronics Show or Mobile World Congress) and start selling it in the second quarter, Lu said. ZTE will first sell its smart watch only in China, but it wants to gradually expand to the U.S. and European markets later.

Just as Samsung's Gear is only compatible with Samsung smartphones, the still-unnamed ZTE smart watch will only be compatible with its own smartphones, but Lu said the company may consider releasing other smart watches in the future that will work with all Android smartphones. He said that the company is also considering other products in wearable computing, such as smart glasses and smartphone-connected shoes for healthcare purposes but that there are no plans for those right now.

Lu said ZTE's smart watch will make the company's smartphones more attractive, and that since ZTE's core competency is as a network gear maker, it will bring that expertise to bear, an argument ZTE executives often make.   

Research firm Juniper Research expects app-enabled smart watch shipments will reach 36 million per year by 2018, compared to just over 1 million this year. Samsung said earlier this month it had shipped 800,000 Gear smart watches in two months since its debut despite middling reviews of the gadget.

In China, Coolpad has unveiled a waterproof smart watch called the cWatch. More broadly, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and other heavyweights are rumored to be developing their own smart watches.

Additionally, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) said it will begin selling its Toq smart watch on Dec. 2--Cyber Monday, the day after the Black Friday holiday shopping bonanza--for $349. Qualcomm announced its Toq smart watch the same day Samsung unveiled its own Galaxy Gear smart watch. However, Qualcomm has made it clear the device is more of a proof of concept than a mass market attack on the smart watch segment.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Engadget article
- see this GigaOM article

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