Is this the Apple iWatch killer?
Italian-made i’m Watch claims market momentum
When looking for a challenger for Apple's fabled iWatch, perhaps it is unremarkable that it can be found in the home of chic: Milan, Italy. Perhaps more surprising is that the i'm Watch has been around for two years.
The device, which its manufacturer claims is protected by three international patents, is referred to as a "smartwatch", capable of the basic time-telling functions one would expect, but also stocked with a range of Android-powered features delivered by interacting with smartphones. The i'm Watch can receive calls, text messages, e-mails, notifications, music, weather reports, photos and other content, including the new i'msport app that can be used to monitor workout sessions.
According to i'm Watch patent-holder i'm S.p.A., the idea originated with engineer Manuel Zanella and designer, Massimiliano Bertolini as far back as 2011 and the product has been growing in popularity ever since.
"We have patented our intellectual property, as we knew this was bound to be a worldwide success," said Zanella.
"Our patents also represent protection for our team of very young, Italian engineers, developers and designers, who have been working with us at this exciting and history-changing project at our premises in Vicenza, what we love to call the Technology Valley of the North-East."
"Knowing that large, international, smartphone producers are working at similar products as ours, makes us really proud, because that means they deem our Italian technology as a new business frontier," added Bertolini.
"Multinational companies have already a consolidated consumers' market, which will fit even better with the smartwatch concept; i'm S.p.A. does not fear the competition and is honoured by the fact that this little jewel of leading-edge technology has been made in Italy."
There are three product ranges for the i'm Watch: Color, Tech and the forthcoming high-end Jewel offering, due for release this month.
Citing Citigroup analysis, i'm S.p.A. claims to have "created a 60bn-dollar market". However, this perhaps refers to Citigroup analyst Oliver Chen's assessment in early March that the global watch industry in 2013 would be worth this amount, which led Bloomberg to conclude that Apple's iWatch idea would prove more profitable than its TVs.
As the smartphone market becomes saturated, analysts have pointed to a lack of innovation as reason for tumbling share prices among the major players. Within two weeks of Bloomberg's iWatch report Apple's South Korean nemesis Samsung revealed it was developing a wrist-wearable smart device. Samsung had seen a stock drop in the wake of its Galaxy S4 launch mere days earlier, perhaps precipitating the smartwatch announcement as a means to appease doubters.
Manufacturer i'm S.p.A.'s recent emergence from relative obscurity was characterised by humble statements of being "honoured" that their patented design was mimicked. However, the first quarter of 2013 has seen a number of reviews of the i'm Watch that have been less than favourable, with reviewers complaining about performance glitches, poor connectivity and limited battery life. Other concerns include the price, which is determined by the body, rather than the inside tech, which is uniform across models. The Color range costs $389, the titanium Tech line fetches $1,049 and the high-end Jewel collection will be kitted out with yellow gold, silver, black gold, pink gold or white gold with a diamond body that costs $19,990.
These issues may mean the i'm Watch will not pose a problem for international brands, particularly Samsung, which is known for fielding new tech with multiple price points. The i'm Watch may have to content itself with playing alone in the luxury market; unless of course its inventors are able to play the patent card.