Casio wants to put the watch back in smartwatch

Casio's new president announces that the Japanese electronics company will enter the smartwatch market in early 2016.

Jeff Chiu/AP Photo (FILE)
In this May 28, 2015 file photo, an Android Wear smartwatch is on display at Google I/O 2015 in San Francisco.

Casio Computer Company will enter the smartwatch market, says new company president Kazuhiro Kashio. Unlike the Apple Watch or Google’s Android Wear, Mr. Kashio says that the Casio smartwatch will be a watch first "that tries to be smart.”

Kashio became president of the company last week, taking over for his father. This shift in leadership might be one of the factors leading Casio to develop wearable technology; for four years, the younger Kashio led a team researching the possibility of a Casio smartwatch.

The Japanese electronics company, which is also known for its calculators, keyboards, instruments, and office equipment, saw initial success with its first digital watch 40 years ago. Since then, its G-Shock line of timepieces has become popular, and the company, which remains profitable, has focused on more minimal, analog displays. Casio maintains steady market growth for its timepieces, and the company’s entry into the smartwatch industry signals what looks like a natural movement for watch manufacturers.

However, the Apple Watch will capture a majority of the smartwatch market for 2015, according to several analysts, so there is some concern whether Casio can properly compete in this new market already dominated by tech giants.

“I don’t think the smartwatch will be an instant success but we want it to grow in the long term,” says Kashio to the Wall Street Journal.

This isn’t the first time that Casio has tried entering the wearable technology market. Over the past few decades, the company has developed “gadget” watches that included heart-rate monitors, dictionaries, and remote controls. The company unveiled the first 32 megabyte audio playing watch in 2000.

All of these saw mixed, if any, success.

“At times we just showed off with quirky features and then pulled those products when they didn’t sell well,” says Kashio. Now, “we are trying to bring our smartwatch to a level of watch perfection: a device that won’t break easily, is simple to put on and feels good to wear.”

Casio isn’t the only watchmaker introducing a smart device. Tag Heuer recently announced a partnership with Google and Intel, and Guess partnered with Silicon Valley-based Martian to release smartwatches.

But Casio and other timepiece monarchs such as Swatch are distinctive in that their smartwatches may not be completely tied to any smartphone operating system.

And as a watch company first and a smart-device company second, Casio may find a more comfortable ground in the industry. Watches, after all, have not been historically equipped to deal with the rate of change or obsolescence that smart devices face. The factor of timelessness is important to watchmakers, and may explain why so few manufacturers have entered the market. To some, this minimal approach to wearable technology may allow watch companies and single-use wearables – or “basic wearables” – to succeed without compromising their business models.

“Smart wearables are about to take a major step forward,” says Ramon Llamas, a research manager at International Data Corporation, a technology market intelligence research group, in a company statement. “We anticipate continued growth here as many segments of the market seek out simple, single-use wearable devices.”

Mr. Llamas attributes much of the industry’s growth to the Apple Watch. “The Apple Watch raises the profile of wearables in general and there are many vendors and devices that are eager to share the spotlight,” he says.

Casio’s smartwatch is expected for release in March 2016 to both Japan and North America. At this point, its price is unknown, but Kashio says that it will have an affordable price tag comparable to its competitors.

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