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China start-up to drive smartwatch market

Posted: 21 May 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smartwatch? wearables? algorithms? firmware?

The CEO of a start-up called 3Wearable Technology, James Xiong, is passionate about smartwatches.

Established here in 2013, his company doesn't make smartwatches. It focuses, rather, on developing algorithms and firmware as "solutions" for very low power-consumption smartwatches. Its platform takes advantage of Broadcom's BCM4774, a location hub chip, and PNI Sensor Corp.'s sensor hub chip.

Keep copycats out

Asked why he calls his company 3Wearable, Xiong told EE Times, "We have three co-founders and we do three thingssoftware, hardware and firmware."


Xiong: Our business model is designed to keep copycats out.

Xiong added, "We're combining these three things to build a platform that's tightly coupled with the cloud. Our business model is designed to keep copycats out."

Reportedly, a number of smartwatch fence-sitters and traditional watchmakers harbour high hopes for 3Wearable. They will be using Xiong's technology to dabble in the nascent smartwatch market, according to a local Chinese electronics industry source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Xiong, who believes China is ripe to succeed in smartwatches, sees four key factors. "First, China is full of young, eager consumers willing to test the products. They want to wear them, even if the products aren't mature, in order to look different from their peers," Xiong told EE Times.

Second, China's leading Internet giants such as Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu are hot to launch smartwatches that will leverage their respective Internet platforms and cloud services.

Third, 70 per cent of watches sold worldwide are made in China. Traditional watchmakers who want a piece of the smartwatch action but have no experience in electronics design will look to China for help.

Finally, experienced Chinese engineers who cut their teeth in the competitive smartphone market over the last decade are now looking for an opportunity to make their marks globally.

In short, Xiong sees the future for China as not just the world's smartwatch factory. The smartwatch, he says, is attracting "lots of talent, money and willing consumers" in China and into China.

Xiong, a graduate of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, is a veteran of the smart device market. After university, he worked four years for Huawei in Germany and 12 years designing handsets at TCL in China.

Thoroughly versed in software and hardware design and the Chinese supply chains, Xiong finds himself precisely at the right moment to seize the wearable wave.

Internet giants are the key

In particular, he isn't depending on hundreds of white-box vendors in China to pull his business. In his view, Internet companies are the key. His current business model is based on an investment partnership with a Chinese Internet company that he declined to identify. Data collected by a new generation of smartwatches will be tied to servers at the Internet company, then leveraged in the Internet company's social cloud services and mobile online payment, he explained. 3Wearable also hopes to work with traditional watchmakers.

Twenty million units of Apple Watch are expected to be sold by the end of this year according to a market research firm CCS Insight. This helps explain why so many vendors in China are waiting with bated breath for the growing smartwatch market.

While Apple has proven the significance of fashion design elements for smartwatches, the next generation must be faster, with better technology, according to Xiong. It will require particular emphasis on sensor algorithms and power consumption.

"With our solution, we can reduce the 20mA power consumption required for Garmin's smartwatch down to 2mA," claimed Xiong. 3Wearable's responsibility doesn't stop at developing sensor algorithms, though. "We work with display suppliers like Japan Display Inc. (JDI) and Sharp, imposing our own spec on the display modules."

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