Though a number of other themes loomed large, the blitz of device releases from the Consumer Electronics Show last week could make smartwatches the pre-eminent theme for tech investors in 2016.
Many of tech's largest names have already unveiled their own smartwatches, most notably Apple's Watch and Samsung's Galaxy Wear. However, beyond pure-play consumer-electronics names, a number of watchmakers, such as LVMH's Tag Heuer, have joined the scores of fitness names, such as Fitbit (NYSE:FIT), in diving in to this booming market, including a previously unanticipated entry from watch power Casio.
The lumberjack's smartwatch?
At CES, Casio CEO Kazuhiro Kashio introduced the company's WSD-F10 smart outdoor watch. Casio's move into the sector's most recent growth trend only seems appropriate, given how the company helped shape and define the watch industry's digital evolution. Better yet, Casio's apparent smartwatch might just be a success.
Casio's WSD-F10 combines the broad array of third-party apps available on the Android Wear platform with a deep specialization in a single area -- outdoor activity applications. While that's not exactly the world's largest genre, Casio opted to include a number of native apps and activity-specific tools that could enhance the experience across outdoor activities, including hiking, cycling, and fishing.
Beyond its outdoor-oriented software, the device also leans heavily on durability, much like Casio's popular G-shock digital watches. The WSD-F10's large exterior casing is tough enough to give the device military-grade durability and water resistance down to 50 meters. It also comes with an atmospheric-pressure sensor, compass, and accelerometer, which the WSD-F10 leverages nicely in many of its pre-installed outdoors applications.
However, the WSD-F10 could have some issues as well. Its $500 price tag sits well above even the Apple Watch Sport's $349 entry level price. Perhaps more concerning, the WSD-F10 offers roughly one day of battery life in regular use cases, which could severely dampen its appeal among users who tend to stay in the outdoors for an extended period.
More broadly, what kind of impact, if any, could it have on publicly traded Apple or FitBit?
Greater threat to Apple or Fitbit?
Though it caters to a different audience, the WSD-F10 could represent a threat because of Casio's apparent strategy of layering deeply specialized industry- or activity-specific tools atop the Android wear OS.
Fitbit shares cratered recently after the company rolled out its apparently DOA smartwatch the Blaze, a device whose premise is anchored on the same depth-over-breadth niche appeal but failed to incorporate the requisite smartwatch functionality required to win against the likes of the Apple Watch. Meanwhile, Casio's CEO expressed interest in following a similar activity-specific strategy for future smartwatches, including perhaps even targeting the corporate sector. He did, however, stop well short of mentioning athletics and fitness tracking as areas of future development.
However, it follows that Casio could apply the same strategy of combining in-depth native fitness applications on top of an Android Wear platform to great success. Especially with Fitbit's Blaze functioning more like an activity watch than a smartwatch, such an opportunity could exist for Casio. The same probably can't be said for the Apple Watch, which wants to cover a broad range of functions across a host of applications.
So while it remains to be seen whether Casio's forthcoming smartwatch can compete with either Apple or FitBIt, the company's strategy probably makes it a more natural competitor with Fitbit.
Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.