It might seem like brands are going headlong into digital and even virtual experiences these days, but there’s still an appreciation for some analog stuff. As if to remind the world, Fossil showed off the latest versions of its hybrid smartwatches on Monday.
Basically a smartwatch disguised as a traditional wristwatch, this class of wearables is defined by mechanical arms on the outside and connectivity, sensors and other high-tech elements on the inside. The mix enables on-the-wrist health and fitness monitoring and notifications — features typically only available on purely digital smartwatches and fitness bands — but without the looks that scream, “Gadget!”
In recent years, the company has started infusing digital elements into its watch face with the Hybrid HR, which features an e-ink display under the physical arms. “E-ink” screens, also known as “e-paper”, are probably best known as the display of choice for traditional Kindle e-readers and the now defunct but still beloved Pebble smartwatches. Although it is a display technology, it is meant to mimic paper, so it fits in with analog sensibility.
The display also anchors the sixth-generation hybrids, central to the 45mm Machine model and the 40.4mm Stella. With this inclusion and other features, Fossil seems to be closing at least part of the gap between its two categories of portable devices.
In terms of smartwatch functionality, all the usual suspects are there, such as step counting, sleep tracking, notifications, workout monitoring, and Bluetooth 5.0.
Machine and Stella also dive into more advanced features like heart rate, continuous blood oxygen and two-week battery life – the latter of which will feel like eons compared to smartwatches’ 1 or 2 days. with touch screen. Thanks to the energy-efficient e-ink screen for that.
So far, not all features have won over reviewers. Some find the reliability of heart rate and sleep tracking to be inconsistent, at least in the Hybrid HR. It remains to be seen if the Industrial-style Machine and the Crystal Stella can do better.
They do, however, have something else going for them that’s unique to hybrids: Alexa.
In January, the watch company told WWD that its latest touchscreen wearables would come with Amazon’s talking technology as a pre-installed, but inactive app – which was notable, as the company is a major smartwatch partner for Google’s Wear platform, which includes the Google Assistant. Two months later, sixth-generation touchscreen watches welcomed Alexa, giving users a choice of voice assistant. Now, this option has extended to the hybrid class.
Owners of these gadgets can also personalize their home screens with health and fitness data, as well as watch faces. This was an impossibility for purely physical watch faces, but e-ink displays can handle this competently.
Fossil is betting a lot on product development these days. The company went from nearly doubling its profits to closing October 2021 with a net income of $31.4 million for the third quarter, to see declines in profitability that analysts find worrying.
They believe it stems from a lack of innovation and an inability to keep pace in an increasingly crowded wearables industry. During Fossil’s first quarter earnings call last month, Greg McKelvey, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, explained that the company is at a pivotal moment that will change course in the smartwatch industry. .
“Later this year, we will relaunch our Gen 6 product line with Google’s new Wear 3 operating system,” he said. “I think it’s important to emphasize how much of a game-changer the Gen 6 relaunch of this holiday with this new operating system is.
“Right now, Google’s own app runs our smartwatches, and we’re not able to access even basic customer information,” McKelvey continued. “With this relaunch, however, we will now be bringing the app back to all of our smartwatches, allowing us to own the data and customer relationship, create a better product experience, and leverage customer data to drive sales. after purchase and the upsell revenue margin.
Google notably bought some of Fossil’s hybrid technology and talent in a $40 million deal in 2019, so the tech giant’s involvement, if any, in its hybrid business is not clear. Either way, the company will likely pay close attention to how its consumers receive Gen 6 models in both categories.
Machine and Stella will launch immediately globally Monday for $229 (leather and silicone strap styles) and $249 (strap styles).