Intel (INTC 1.60%) recently unveiled the Basis Peak, a $200 health-tracking smartwatch scheduled to launch in November.
Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) flooded the market with six different Gear watches over the past year, but Intel has promised that the Basis Peak will deliver heart tracking capabilities superior to any comparably priced wearable.
Intel acquired Basis, which previously released the B1 Band, in March to expand its presence in wearable devices -- a market Juniper Research projects will grow from $4.5 billion this year to $53.2 billion by 2019.
What sets the Basis Peak apart from other smartwatches is that it can constantly take heart rate readings while the wearer is in motion, compared to the temporary "spot checks" provided by other smartwatches, which usually require the user to stand perfectly still. Intel claims the Peak's readings, made through its optical sensors, are as reliable as chest-strap monitors.
The Basis Peak also includes an accelerometer, skin temperature sensor, and perspiration sensor within its water-resistant aluminum frame. The device synchronizes with a companion app for Apple (AAPL -0.54%) iOS and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Android devices. It can also display text messages, emails, and incoming calls from a paired smartphone.
That's a lot of features for a fairly competitive price, but can the Basis Peak stand out in this crowded market? Let's look at the changing currents of the wearables market to find out.
The perplexing nature of the smartwatch market
The smartwatch and fitness band market is full of contradictions -- analysts and tech companies all believe it's the next big thing, but consumers remain passive about the devices.
According to a recent report from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, less than 1% of all consumers in the U.S., Europe, China, Japan, and Australia own a smartwatch. Mainstream sentiment isn't improving, either -- according to a recent survey of over 6,000 individuals by RBC Capital Markets, only 11% planned to buy the Apple Watch.
A big part of that might be the pricing. In surveying 1,000 U.S. online consumers, research firm ON World found that 40% of respondents were willing to pay $99 or more for a smartwatch with integrated blood pressure, heart rate, and activity tracking sensors, but only 8% were willing to pay more than $299. That likely explains the tepid response to the Apple Watch, which will cost $350 when it arrives next year. That also explains why Samsung, which Kantar estimates controls 51% of the smartwatch market, prices all of its watches between $150 (Gear Fit) and $300 (Gear 2).
Therefore, Intel's Basis Peak seems priced to perfection with the right biometric features. If reviews confirm Intel's bold claims, users fed up with Samsung's inconsistent heart rate tracking abilities might give the Peak a chance.
Intel's interest in wearables isn't about Apple and Samsung
Investors who have followed Intel over the past year know how much it believes in wearable tech.
In addition to acquiring Basis, Intel partnered with SMS Audio in August to launch biometric earbuds that can log a user's heart rate to a companion app. Last month, it unveiled MICA, a $1,000 luxury bracelet developed with high-end retailer Opening Ceremony, and also partnered with Fossil (FOSL 2.73%) to develop fashionable new wearables.
However, these efforts aren't intended to challenge Apple and Samsung for dominance of the wearables market. It's all about keeping the company's biggest rival, ARM Holdings (ARMH), out of the space. ARM already licenses the chips used in Samsung's smartwatches and Google Glass, which indicates the company is gearing up to dominate wearables market as it did with mobile phones in the past.
Intel lost the mobile market to ARM because it didn't respond quickly to its rival's strategy of licensing cheap and power-efficient designs to manufacturers. Today, ARM controls 95% of the entire handset market, while Intel's Atom chips are only found in a handful of devices. Intel clearly doesn't plan to let the wearables market slip through its fingers in the same way.
The Foolish takeaway
It's refreshing to see Intel take such an aggressive stance in the wearables market. With products such as the Basis Peak smartwatch, biometric earphones, luxury bracelets, and mainstream Fossil-branded smartwatches all on the way, Intel is quickly becoming one of the most interesting companies to follow in this increasingly crowded space.