Using Startup Tricks to Build Smartwatch Buzz
Imagine you’re Sony, and you’re testing out a timepiece made entirely from e-paper, the same material used in e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle. How do you determine whether people will actually want your product?
You follow the startup route: Create a subsidiary with no obvious connection to your storied brand, and raise funds for the device via crowdsourcing.
According to The Verge and the Wall Street Journal, Sony did all the above, via a startup subsidiary called Fashion Entertainments. The watch began life as a Japanese crowdsourcing project, almost certainly so that Sony could see whether an e-paper timepiece would prove attractive to a mass audience. (The crowdfunding site, Makuake, offered the watches to the first 800 people to donate 19,800 yen, or roughly $166.)
Unlike other examples of wearable electronics, which tend to emphasize functionality over aesthetics, the Sony e-paper watch doesn’t come with a plethora of apps and software. Instead, it seems that the company is betting on the watch’s minimalist design and unique material as selling points; priced low enough, it could attract those who want something new and distinctive, but don’t particularly care if their watch measures their heart-rate or sends notifications about email. (Sony/Fashion Entertainments is also working on an e-paper bow tie, for those who want to shake up workplace fashion a bit.)
If Sony bets big on e-paper as timepiece material, it will neatly sidestep one of the biggest issues brewing around wearable electronics: apps. Apple, Google, and other players in the space are all encouraging third-party developers to build software for their respective platforms, hoping that a handful of killer apps will help those devices become iPhone-caliber hits. But if Sony cuts that uncertainty out of its equation, it also deprives itself of the revenues and prestige that come with a healthy app ecosystem.
Even if the project fails, however, it will have been notable for one thing: a big tech company taking some pages from the startup playbook in order to draw some early buzz to a new piece of hardware.
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Image: Fashion Entertainments/Sony