About time: How Fossil made smartwatches look good and why the Samsung-Google partnership doesn’t bother it

Fossil is launching its next-gen smartwatch—the Gen 6—in India at the same time as global markets. Something like this has never happened before.

Fossil is launching its next-gen smartwatch—the Gen 6—in India at the same time as global markets. Something like this has never happened before.

Fossil needs no introduction. The American fashion watchmaker first set up shop in India in 2007 and hasn’t looked back since. It forayed into the smartwatch space in 2016 with the Gen 2. Needless to say, it was an early mover in the business of smartwatches in the country. Today, India has become the world’s third largest smartwatch market and Fossil’s business has grown “quite considerably” over the years. Which is why, it is launching its next-gen smartwatch—the Gen 6—in India at the same time as global markets. Something like this has never happened before.

“This is the first time ever that we are synchronizing our launch in India along with the global launch,” Johnson Verghese, Managing Director of Fossil India tells Financial Express Online, adding “I think that is a great win.”

As with any other technology that’s consistently evolving, the launch window is critical to smartwatches too “and if you launch at a time-frame different from when it is launched already, then the time-frame that you have to absorb that product into your market also reduces.” Another reason could be that Fossil is very confident about the product it has made and it wants more and more people to experience it as soon as possible.

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Not only did Fossil start making smartwatches early—relative to any other legacy watch brand—the company has had a profound effect on how they are sold. Department stores, for instance, were not typical places where you could buy a smartwatch back in the day. Fossil brought smartwatches to that vertical, as it were, Verghese says. A lot of the top watch retailers—we’re talking large watch chains—got their first experience with smartwatches with Fossil, he adds.

Of course, you’d find Fossil smartwatches at electronics stores but “we’ve opened up a lot of distribution channels that really weren’t prime distribution channels or early distribution channels for the business.”

Future gazing

Getting into the smartwatch space was a concerted strategic decision for Fossil. Acquiring wearable maker Misfit—that had former Apple CEO John Sculley as one of its co-founders—in 2015 brought the head start it needed.

Fossil believed smartwatches were here to stay. But having said that, transition into a new, uncharted category didn’t mean Fossil would shift focus. Being into the fashion space, aspiring for a higher tier which is to say the high-end luxury market, was potentially appealing but instead it chose to stick with what it did best—to strive for finding the right balance, in this case, between design and technology.

Fossil Gen 6 ranges from Rs 23,995 to Rs 24,995.

“When we looked at the landscape at that point of time, for connected watches, there was a lot of technology input, but I don’t think people really looked at it from the point of view of a fashion accessory. That’s what Fossil managed to do. Bring together the fashion element of the business along with the technology element,” Verghese says, adding “so, if you ask us what it is that we bring to the table that is different from anybody else, I think we understand the ethos of fashion.”

With the Gen 6, Fossil believes it has been able to bring together a true fashion product that is right at the top in terms of cutting-edge technology.

“I think it’s a great balance that we’ve been able to achieve.”

To Wear or not to Wear, that’s the question

As powerful and future-ready as the Gen 6 appears—at least on paper—it’s not without its fair share of concerns. The biggest being Wear OS, the software that drives it. The Gen 6 will ship with Wear OS 2 and not the latest Wear OS 3 that runs on Samsung’s new Galaxy Watches. Fossil has confirmed it will offer upgrades to Wear OS 3 for the Gen 6 sometime in 2022.

That’s a huge bet, even for Fossil. Especially at a time when almost all the other smartwatch makers have either given up or moved on to in-house software. The Samsung-Google partnership could be the final nail in the coffin, for all we know. Fossil will continue using Wear OS for the unforeseeable future though.

“I would only like to reiterate that the partnership that we have (with Google) has stood us in good stead all these years. And it’s a partnership that we intend to continue. So, no plans beyond that at this point of time,” Verghese says.

Question is, does Samsung and Google joining hands bother Fossil?

Gen 6 will get Wear OS 3 in 2022.

“The Gen 6 is already Wear OS 3 ready. In 2022 when we actually go live with Wear OS 3, we will then be able to benefit from the entire suit of features that come in from the Wear OS 3 platform. We have great hopes in terms of what that platform will bring to us in terms of various platform partners that can operate then on that software. So, we will wait till that happens. But at this point of time, we are absolutely and completely engaged with the fact that Wear OS 3 will be available on Fossil smartwatches in 2022,” he says.

But then, buyers would have to wait until 2022 to benefit from “the entire suit of features that come in from the Wear OS 3 platform.” Samsung is offering those benefits today.

“Each generation that we’ve brought into the market has been more successful than the previous generation. I believe consumers are confident that we offer a unique proposition. So, for example, there’s a whole slew of additional features that we brought on board right along with the Wear OS 2 platform that we have today. And the fact that we are Wear OS 3 ready and will be engaged with Wear OS 3 in 2022, I think our consumers are pretty strongly supportive of that.”

Fossil Gen 6 decoded

The Gan 6 is based on three key pillars—performance, wellness and lifestyle—according to Fossil.

It’s being billed as the world’s first smartwatch with the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100+ processor that’s supposedly bringing up to 30% faster performance to Fossil’s new smartwatch. Fossil is also offering faster charging—up to 80% charge in 30 minutes—that’s said to be “faster than any of the competition.” The 4100+ platform additionally allows for full colour and full featured ambient mode watch faces. The Gen 6 also adds Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity.

Wellness upgrades include a new SpO2 sensor for tracking blood oxygen saturation levels, auto activity generation, and improved heart rate monitoring that works seemingly well even when the watch is loosely fitted.

“This is something that’s very, very specific that we understand as watch manufacturers. Not everybody likes to wear the watch tightly wrapped around. Our HR monitor is able to manage to give you accurate readings even with different skin types, even with different usage patterns in terms of how close it is worn to your skin,” Verghese says.

different styles and sizes. There will be seven distinct models to choose from.

As for lifestyle, expectedly, the Gen 6 will come in a few different styles and sizes. There will be seven distinct models to choose from available in a combination of colours and straps including silicone, leather including and metal.

“When a consumer goes to buy a regular traditional watch, there is an element of choice that the consumer expects. And I think that doesn’t really go away just because they’re buying a smartwatch,” he says, adding “by offering a range of products, we ensure consumers aren’t forced to buy something simply because you want some functionality elements in that. It’s what we apply to our core business and what we’ve been able to apply to smartwatches too.”

A curious omission is LTE. The Gen 6 does not come with a cellular option in India.

“Well, at this point of time we don’t have an LTE option. We have launched an LTE version in the US. We are examining what that means in our country and time will tell when we will plan to launch that.”

Chip shortage and the way forward

Fossil, like every other large manufacturer that uses chips, has been impacted by the global semiconductor shortage. The demand has been humongous and supply chains have simply failed to cope up.

“It’s a global phenomenon, and I think it’s going to take some time before that clears up,” Verghese says.

“In 2022, we do hope that the market is going to be back to pre-COVID levels. We can clearly see that happening. We can see the direction happening, the recovery rate after wave two has been much faster than the recovery after wave one. We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope that is true. But yes, we are optimistic about what the last quarter of this year will bring in and about the future,” he adds.

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