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Can Sony's SmartWatch Compete Without Android Wear?

By Chris Neiger – Mar 25, 2014 at 7:00PM

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Sony has decided to stick with the full version of Android for its smart-watch ambitions, which could prove a risky move.

The first Sony SmartWatch. Source: Sony

When it launched back in 2012, the Sony (SONY -1.28%) SmartWatch was one of the first movers in the wearable technology space. It sports email and message notifications, a music player, social-media integration, access to Google's (GOOGL 0.91%) app store, and more. But being the first can have its drawbacks. The company has spent a lot of time and money tweaking Android for its smart-watch lineup, only to have Google recently release a new wearable platform called Android Wear.

Sony has decided to not switch its device over to Android Wear, a move that will ultimately hurt the company.

Moto 360 running Android Wear. Source: Motorola

What exactly is Android Wear?
Google just introduced Android Wear last week, which is a slightly tuned version of Android that's made specifically for wearable devices. The operating system pairs with existing Android devices and can send notifications to a smart watch, recognize voice questions, provides directions, and monitors health and fitness. Its purpose is to make it easier for original equipment manufacturers to enter the wearables market by providing them with an OS that's specifically created for their wearable devices.

Companies such Asus, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung are all working with Google to bring the new OS to market, and the Moto 360 and LG G Watch are slated to debut later this year.

Sticking with the current plan
Sony currently uses Android on both of its wearable devices, the SmartWatch and the SmartWatch 2. In a recent interview with CNET, Sony said it's invested a lot of time and money in adapting the Android OS for its own purposes, and that it wouldn't make sense to move away from it now.

While it's logical that Sony wouldn't want to course correct so early in its wearable plans, not adopting Android Wear could have negative long-term effects.

Sony SmartWatch 2. Source: Sony

What this means for Sony
Though Sony is a first-mover in the wearables space, there are no winners yet in the smart-watch sector. In 2013, just 1.2 million Android smart watches shipped globally. According to Strategy Analytics, most of the smart-watch growth has come from Samsung's watches, not Sony's.

I think Android Wear will help boost the adoption of smart watches and OEMs that jump on board right now will likely benefit. Up until now device makers have had to adapt Android for small screens, but now Android Wear offers them an out-of-the-box system that's easy for consumers to understand. That's why I think it's a mistake for Sony to pass on the new OS.

Android Wear will be a tipping point for consumers and Sony is going to miss out on the growth. As device makers launch watches running Android Wear, Sony's version may be too much of a contrast to lure buyers. Google's wearable OS will have more marketing, with the help of large OEMs, which will leave Sony's device looking like a separate and unfamiliar system. While it's commendable that Sony was one of the first companies out of the wearables gate, it needs to adopt Android Wear if it wants to finish the race strong.

Fool contributor Chris Neiger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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