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It may seem like brands are jumping headlong into digital and even virtual experiences these days, but there’s still an appreciation for some things analog. As if to remind the world of that, Fossil introduced the latest versions of its hybrid smartwatches on Monday.
Basically a smartwatch disguised as a traditional wristwatch, this class of wearable is defined by mechanical arms on outside and connectivity, sensors and other bits of high tech on the inside. The blend allows for some health and fitness monitoring and notifications on the wrist — features typically only available on purely digital smartwatches and fitness bands — but without looks that scream, “Gadget!”
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In recent years, the company began infusing some digital elements in its watch face with the Hybrid HR, which features an e-ink display under the physical arms. “E-ink” screens, also called “e-paper,” are probably best known as the display of choice for traditional Kindle e-readers and the now defunct, but still loved Pebble smartwatches. Although it’s a display technology, it’s meant to mimic paper, so it fits in with the analog sensibility.
The display also anchors the sixth generation hybrids, sitting dead center of the 45mm Machine model and the 40.4mm Stella. With this inclusion and other features, Fossil appears to be closing at least some of the gap between its two wearable device categories.
In terms of smartwatch functionality, all the usual suspects are there, such as step counting, sleep tracking, notifications, workout monitoring and Bluetooth 5.0.
Machine and Stella also dip into more advanced features like heart rate, continuous blood oxygen and two-week battery life — the latter of which will feel like eons compared to the 1 or 2 days eked out by touchscreen smartwatches. Thank the power efficient e-ink display for that.
Not all of the features have wowed reviewers so far. Some find the reliability of heart rate and sleep tracking to be inconsistent, at least in the Hybrid HR. It remains to be seen if the industrial styled Machine and crystal-studded Stella can do any better.
They have something else going for them, though, which is unique for hybrids: Alexa.
In January, the watch company told WWD that its latest touchscreen wearables would ship with Amazon’s talking tech as a pre-installed, but dormant app — which was notable, because the company is a major smartwatch partner for Google’s Wear platform, which includes the Google Assistant. Two months later, the sixth-gen touchscreen watches welcomed Alexa, giving users a choice of voice assistant. Now that option has spread to the hybrid class.
Owners of these gadgets can also personalize their homescreens with health and fitness data, as well as watch faces. That was an impossibility for purely physical dials, but e-ink screens can handle that capably.
Fossil has a lot riding on product development these days. The company has gone from nearly doubling its earnings, closing October 2021 with net income of $31.4 million for the third quarter, to seeing declines in profitability that analysts find worrying.
They believe it stems from a lack of innovation and inability to keep up amid an ever-more crowded wearables sector. During Fossil’s first quarter earnings call last month, Greg McKelvey, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, explained that the business is at a pivotal moment that will change its course in the smartwatch business.
“Later this year, we will be relaunching our Gen 6 product line with Google’s new Wear 3 operating system,” he said. “I think it’s important to highlight how meaningful of a change this holiday’s Gen 6 relaunch with this new operating system represents.
“Currently, Google’s own app runs our smart watches, and we are unable to access even basic customer information,” McKelvey continued. “With this relaunch, however, we will now be taking over the app for all of our smartwatches, which allows us to own the customer data and relationship, build a better product experience and leverage the customer data to drive post-purchase cross-sell and upsell revenue margin.”
Google notably bought some of Fossil’s hybrid tech and talent in a $40 million deal in 2019, so the tech giant’s involvement, if any, in its hybrid business isn’t clear. Regardless, the company will likely pay very close attention to how its consumers will receive the Gen 6 models across both categories.
Machine and Stella launch immediately on Monday globally for $229 (leather and silicone strap styles) and $249 (bracelet styles).