Using Startup Tricks to Build Smartwatch Buzz

E-Paper Watch

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.

Click here to find a tech job at a startup.

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.

Upload Your ResumeEmployers want candidates like you. Upload your resume. Show them you’re awesome.

Related Articles

Image: Fashion Entertainments/Sony