Apple hijacked all wearables conversations with the introduction of its Apple Watch. The monolithic tech giant tends to do that when it enters a new product category.
But some of that extra hype tends to trickle down to other deserving smartwatches, products like Timex’s Ironman ONE GPS+, which will be priced around $400 when it comes out this fall.
The company’s upcoming wearable focuses squarely on fitness but packs a feature most others in the world of health-tracking gadgets lack: cellular connectivity.
To power its GPS, updates, syncing and essential email-based messaging, the ONE GPS+ has a radio tuned specifically to AT&T’s 3G network.
Thomas Essery, vice president of advanced technology and innovation at Timex, said the ONE GPS+ has been in the works for about a year and a half.
Born out of consumer research that found people wanted to exercise but didn’t want to bring their phone with them, the ONE GPS+ set out to address a very specific use case, Essery said.
“There was a real problem out there that needed to be solved and nobody was solving it,” Essery said. “It’s not trying to replace the phone on the wrist.”
How it does fill in for the phone though is by providing some basic connectivity, a Bluetooth-enabled music player (with 4GB of space) and a level of security. Though the ONE GPS+ could potentially serve as a phone, the 3G is used strategically in the interest of simplicity and battery life. Also, as Timex Senior Director of Market Strategy Shawn Lawson-Cummings put it, the company wanted to make something differentiated and “Ironman specific.”
The work on the product has been reliant on Timex’s partnership with AT&T for connectivity and with Qualcomm, which Essery said provided the reference design and the “guts of the watch.”
The ONE GPS+ leverages Qualcomm’s Mirasol display, a full-color format that performs better than LEDs in natural light and draws less power. The ONE GPS+ is also using a cell phone chipset from a years ago and Qualcomm’s development environment Brew. It’s the app ecosystem Qualcomm creates to spur development for feature phones. From an open operating perspective—and considering options like Android Wear weren’t around yet—Brew presented the best option for building functionality into the ONE GPS+.
Essery said at some point Timex could open up the ONE GPS+ to a storefront for third-party apps but for now the company is focused on tailoring the experience before launch.
On top of the reference design and platforms, Timex is also using a Qualcomm server to work as an intermediary between the network and watch, allowing for shrinking messaging protocols and minimizing power consumption by the cellular radio. The ONE GPS+ foregoes SMS in favor of IP messaging.
After the groundwork Qualcomm provided, Timex brought its experience in industrial design in order to help make the ONE GPS+ substantially rugged and water-resistant.
The large but not uncomfortable ONE GPS+ sports a 1.5-inch touchscreen display (288 x 192 resolution), water resistance up to 50 meters, a battery supporting 8 hours of GPS and cellular activity, and support for fitness apps like mapmyfitness and RunKeeper. Data from a workout easily syncs to a smartphone or a web portal via its cellular connection and gets analyzed into metrics.
The GPS gives users the option to let family and friends track their whereabouts and the ability to send out a location-based SOS. For messaging, users can preset canned responses or use a touchpad style keyboard to craft more specific messages.
And it’s all packaged in a watch that’s clearly geared toward the outdoorsy crowd.
The ONE GPS+ will hit markets before the Apple Watch so it won’t have to compete with Apple’s long-awaited wearable. But it’s really in a niche away from the more general purpose smartwatches.
Still, Essery admitted he’s glad Apple is in the space. During a ONE GPS+ demo, he showed off his LG G Watch with a Watch OS homescreen as its wallpaper. He said he’d already had multiple people approach him excitedly asking if it was an Apple Watch.
That kind of anticipation is good for the smartwatch space as a whole, regardless of how specific the use case is for each wearable.