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EETE MAY 2013

Smart watches will leverage smartphones adoption to flourish in 2013, says ABI Research By Julien Happich Smart Watches have been around for the last decade. The wearable computing device has failed to take off for one reason or another: they looked ugly, were too bulky, had weak functionality, or the battery life was not good enough. However, over the last nine months a number of new smart watches have emerged that could change consumers’ perceptions. Market intelligence firm ABI Research projects more than 1.2 million smart watches will be shipped in 2013. “The strong potential emergence of smart watches can be attributed to several reasons,” says senior analyst Joshua Flood. “Contributing factors include the high penetration of smartphones in many world markets, the wide availability and low cost of MEMS sensors, energy efficient connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth 4.0, and a flourishing app ecosystem.” The wearable computing device can be split into four categories: notification types, voice operational smart watches, hybrid smart watches, and completely independent smart watches. Notification type devices are the MetaWatch and Cookoo smart watches, for example, offering alerts for incoming calls, messages and other notifications. Voice operational smart watches enable users to conduct calls and speak some commands via the device such as Martian’s smart watch. Standalone smart watches with their own OS are moving beyond a smartphone accessory. With the potential to be purchased as a standalone product without the need for a smartphone, they offer high functionality and can connect to other consumer devices like audio speakers. A good example is the Italian smart watch maker, I’m Watch. Other good possible archetypes for this category could be Apple’s hotly anticipated iWatch, Samsung’s Galaxy Altius and Microsoft is also reportedly planning to release a new touch-enabled watch for its Windows-based smartphones and tablets. “Smart watches that replicate the functionality of a mobile handset or smartphone are not yet commercially feasible, though the technologies are certainly being prepared,” adds Flood. Microsoft, Foxconn ink patent licensing deal By Dylan McGrath Micr osoft Corp. sai d it entered into a worldwide patent licensing agreement with Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Co., the parent company of electronics contract manufacturer Foxconn. Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) said the deal provides broad coverage under Microsoft’s patent portfolio for devices running the Android and Chrome OS, including smartphones, tablets and televisions. Microsoft said it would receive unspecified royalties from Hon Hai under the agreement. Microsoft has been aggressive in threatening legal action against handset OEMs perceived as violating its massive software IP portfolio. Firms such as HTC Corp., Acer, LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. have already agreed to pay Microsoft royalties on Android-based phones. Motorola Mobility, now a subsidiary of Google, remains a holdout and is fighting Microsoft in court over patents. Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst at Tirias Research, said Microsoft is beginning to have success forcing firms that build smartphones and other products on behalf of others to sign licensing agreements for fear of being sued. “Unfortunately, the contract manufacturers and ODMs are getting caught in the crossfire,” McGregor said. “They almost have to have that legal indemnity to avoid getting sued.” Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, is well known for building products for Apple Inc.—including iPhones and iPads—and firms. The firm is estimated to manufacture more than 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronics. Intellectual property battles have long been a part of the hightech landscape, but seem to have ramped up in recent years. Companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google—which owns tens of thousands of patents—have been engaging in legal action and bidding to acquire other patent portfolios to strengthen their competitive positions. Apple and Samsung famously squared off in court last year in San Jose, Calif., in a fight over smartphone patents. Will Foxconn become OEM? McGreggor said Foxconn may have agreed to the deal because it eventually hopes to become an OEM, making its own branded products. HTC took such a path—starting as a contract manufacturer before eventually making its own successful handsets. “Some of it is related to the fact that they Foxconn are building products for companies that they know are being sued by Microsoft,” McGreggor said. “Their customers are already getting sued. It’s kind of preemptive to keep that waterfall from going down.” Horacio Gutierrez, corporate vice president and deputy general counsel of Microsoft’s intellectual property group, said the deal with Hon Hai expands the success of Microsoft’s Android licensing program. “By licensing both brand name companies and their contract manufacturers, we have successfully increased the overall effectiveness and global reach of the program,” Gutierrez said. 16 Electronic Engineering Times Europe May 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE MAY 2013
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