Samsung’s latest, clever TV spot shows a series of retro characters like Captain Kirk, Dick Tracy and the blonde-haired Penny from Inspector Gadget talking into their watches. Moments later, a gleaming Galaxy Gear smart watch rotates into view, reminding us that “the next big thing is here” – a watch-phone device that is no longer the domain of science fiction but hitting stores soon.
But could a smart watch be “smarter” if it didn’t have to be tethered to a smart phone? The Gear only becomes wireless when it’s connected to another Samsung smartphone by bluetooth. Enter a relatively unknown company called Filip Technologies which early next year will launch the first ever smart watch embedded with its own SIM card for making voice calls. It won’t do email, calendars or third-party apps, but it’s the first smart watch approved to make voice calls by the FCC .
Necessity being the mother of invention, the FiLIP needed a SIM of its own because most parents won’t give their children a smartphone for tethering until they’re around 13, and the watch is meant to keep track of children from as young as four. It was invented by Sten Kirkbak and named after his son Filip, who for 30 heart-stopping minutes went missing in a restaurant in Norway when he was three years old. When Kirkbak later tried Googling a location-tracking device his son could wear in future, he couldn’t find one, and decided to make it himself.
So far the FiLIP has been trialled on around 50 children, and the company signed a deal with AT&T earlier this year after starting discussions with the carrier in 2012. AT&T will be the device’s exclusive carrier for the next three years. Filip Technologies’ CEO, Jonathan Peachey, is still in talks with AT&T about pricing plans, but buying the device will be just like buying a smartphone through a carrier. You’ll pay an upfront fee and a certain amount each month for the voice and data, though Peachey insists the plan will be “affordable.”
What’s intriguing about the FiLIP is that while it’s been designed for kids and thus limited to calling five designated telephone numbers, its strides as the first smart watch with a calling SIM may open the possibility for adults to want one too. With its embedded SIM, it’s not a device that you could swap temporarily from a smartphone, but anyone who needs a basic phone for making calls and sending messages might find it useful in certain circumstances.
At this point it’s hard to know either way until the device comes to market. Critics have slammed the Samsung Gear as being an ugly, battery-draining device that will not be particularly useful for consumers. The Pebble has had some success as a smart watch — shipping more than 100,000 devices — that that can show e-mail, texts and Twitter notifications, but users report that constantly looking at a watch can appear just a as rude in a meeting as checking your phone, as it hints that you are bored and don’t want to be there.
Meanwhile new speculation about the forthcoming iWatch from Apple suggests Cupertino wants the watch to be a hub for the connected home. Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Brian White says that after talking to suppliers in China and Taiwan, be believes the iWatch will be “much more than an extension of your iPhone but… a multipurpose gateway to in allowing consumers to control their home (ie. heating/cooling, lights, audio, video, etc.)”