Timex, America’s iconic watch brand known for “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” has launched a smartwatch as it tries to elbow into a market that presumably will be dominated by Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) new Apple Watch. The plan’s weakness is that Timex has never built a smartwatch, beyond a GPS model. The strength is that Timex has maintained a brand that predates Apple’s by decades. Also, it is earlier into the smartwatch business than Apple is.
Presumably Timex does not have access to the level of R&D that Apple has, both in terms of capital and high-end engineers. However, its product is unusually well-featured, due in part to partnerships with major U.S. corporations. The screen of the watch is built in part by Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM), which already powers tens of millions of smartphones. The watch is connected over 3G by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), and part of the relationship with the wireless company is a year of free service. The watch even has a Bluetooth feature. The product is for sale for $399, which probably will make it competitive on price.
The Timex watch demonstrates that Apple may not be able to enter the smartwatch market unmolested. High-end consumer electronics companies such as LG and Huawei are among the challengers. Neither has pushed into the wearable smartwatch market the way Timex has. Timex’s nearly smartwatches include a GPS version that it has sold for some time. It is a tool for runners, which Timex has just rebuilt into one for people who want to carry songs, surf the Web and send out phone-free messages using an email address.
Timex, for years was one of America’s big makers of inexpensive dumb watches, recently has faced competition from other dumb watch companies, including Swatch. To escape the problem of being boxed into that market, Timex management has decided to go high tech. For Apple, which can claim leverage in the new market because of its millions of iPhones, the sale of every competing high-tech watch counts. There are only some many customers to go around.