While more companies are jumping into the smartwatch race by trying to pack in more features into the bulky LCD screens, Sony is taking the road less traveled with a new smartwatch that uses e-ink technology.
Sony already has a line of LCD smartwatches uncreatively called the Sony SmartWatch, but the Japanese electronics maker is making an attempt at an e-paper smartwatch called the FES Watch. The company hopes, by targeting the smartwatch as a fashion accessory instead of a miniature smartphone strapped to the user's wrist, that it can stand out in the competitive wearable industry.
Part of Sony's strategy is to keep the project under wraps. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sony has been keeping its name out of the game, billing the FES Watch as a project of Fashion Entertainments, a Sony subsidiary under a new group called New Business Creation Development. So far, Sony has succeeded with this strategy, raising a total of 3.5 million yen or $30,000 to develop the FES Watch on Makuake, a Japanese crowdfunding website, and exceeding its fundraising goal of 2 million yen.
"We hid Sony's name because we wanted to test the real value of the product, whether there will be demand for our concept," says one person involved with Fashion Entertainments.
It is unclear what the new smartwatch has to offer, apart from the longer battery life that is common to all devices sporting e-ink screens, such as Amazon's Kindle e-reader and the Pebble smartwatch, which helped raise popularity for the smartwatch industry in general. The FES Watch is touted to have 60 days of battery life on a single charge, and that is expected for an e-paper device. Beyond that, however, Sony does not specify if it has sensors to track the user's fitness information or if it will push notifications from a smartphone, like many other smartwatches do.
What seems to be clear, as seen in a promotional video made for the FES Watch's crowdfunding page, is that it will change its design according to the wearer's movements. For instance, the watch strap can change from faux leather to mock metal when the wearer takes it out of his pocket. Instead of seeing e-paper as a flexible piece of technology, Sony wants to redefine it as a piece of fabric that can be used for other accessories.
In fact, Fashion Entertainments is also experimenting with bow ties, hats and shoe straps that are made from e-ink fabric. The project involves five young engineers mostly in their 30s and with the assistance of an outside design company. Hiroki Totoki, Sony's new head of its smartphone business, oversees the project.
Up to 140 people who pledged their support for the FES Watch will receive their smartwatches when Sony, under the Fashion Entertainments name, ships the units in May next year.