SMART DEVICES

First 'fully Chinese' smartwatch aims to fill gap left by Google's Android Wear

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 9:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 June, 2015, 9:27am

A Beijing-based start-up has launched what it says is the only smartwatch that runs on a dedicated operating system apart from the Apple Watch.

The Chinese-language smartwatch operating system - said to be a first - lets users control not only their watches, but also other connected home appliances, by using voice commands in Mandarin Chinese.

Users of the Ticwatch have to say “Ni Hao, Wen Wen” to wake up the device, and according to an on-site demonstration, can find results by asking the watch in Chinese, for instance, “What is the closest dumpling restaurant with free wireless internet?”.

Other functions can also be controlled by touching the screen, sliding a side sensor pad, or shaking the device.

“It’s not difficult nowadays to make a smartwatch. You can just go to Shenzhen and find contractors willing to take your order for watches that may look different on the surface, but are essentially the same inside,” Chumen Wenwen chief executive Li Zhifei told reporters at a launch event in Beijing.

“And they don’t work well because they all have the Android Wear OS beneath them and aren’t made with the hardware in mind,” said the former research scientist at Google.

As Apple Watch only supports iPhones, and Android Wear has yet to enter the Chinese market since almost all Google services are blocked on the mainland, he said he believed a homegrown system could fill the gap. Li's company previously made its name with voice controlled information enquiry applications for Chinese tourists travelling outside the country.

The operating system, Ticwear, was released late last year. The Ticwatch will be the operating system's first native device.

The design of the watch was done by Frog Design, a San Francisco-based firm that has previously worked on some of Apple’s computers, including several Mac models.

The firm has teamed up with online services such as e-commerce platform JD.com, Sogou Maps, car-booking apps Didi Dache and Yidao Yongche, and smart home system developer Broadlink, among others, to let users hit the ground running with the watches, Li said.

The base unit retails for 999 yuan (US$160), while a model with a metal strap will cost 1,199 yuan. Pre-orders begin on JD.com from June 18.

While the lack of Android Wear devices on the market gives Chumen Wenwen a good head start, it may soon face stiff competition from Baidu. The search giant launched a website in April to introduce its upcoming Android-based smartwatch OS named DuWear, and also teased its own smartwatch product - the DuWear Watch - this month, according to reports in the Chinese media.