While Apple’s first smartwatch made its debut following several years of hype and rumors, Sony managed to keep its innovative e-ink watch under the radar for months until the project finally came to light, and it looks interesting to say the least.
Rather than announcing the new smartwatch with a big press event, Sony chose to conceal its involvement with the e-ink watch by hiding the device on the Japanese crowdfunding site Makuake with a modest funding goal of $8,500. The device reached and exceeded that goal by raising more than $20,000.
So why the cloak and dagger stuff? One of the project’s coordinators told a reporter, “We hid Sony’s name because we wanted to test the real value of the product, whether there will be demand for our concept.”
Clever thinking since if the concept watch had been an abysmal flop, this strategy would also would have allowed Sony to continue to conceal the company’s involvement, walking away with its reputation unscathed and ready to move on to Plan B. That’s something Apple will not be able to do if the Apple Watch sinks like a stone when the device finally hits stores sometime in the spring.
Sony’s e-ink powered smartwatch goes by the name FES Watch or Fashion Entertainments Watch. The entertaining part of this timepiece is the way the ultra-thin watch can use the e-ink to change the color and design of both the watch interface and the band. A demonstration video showed the watch cycling through several of its 24 design patterns including one that gave the band the appearance of alligator skin. The watch also boasts an impressive 60 days of battery life.
The Sony FES Watch is hardly the first device to make use of the e-ink technology since it’s already being utilized in the Pebble smartwatch and Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. Still, if the process acquired the public clout of Sony behind it we’d be likely to see more e-ink devices in the future.
The FES Watch was offered to backers for about $167 and will be delivered to them starting in May 2015. So far, there’s no word from Sony as to when—or if—the watch will become available to the public.
While a watch that can change its appearance with a flick of the wrist sounds like it might be fun at parties, it remains to be seen what the FES Watch can actually do. What features will it have that will distinguish it from the wearable devices currently on the market and those to come when more tech companies as well as the makers of luxury watches get in on the action?
If the Apple Watch turns out to be the brand’s next huge hit, rivals will be scrambling to copy it just like they did when the iPad came out four years ago. If not, the secret to selling millions of smartwatches could be found elsewhere—like in e-ink technology.