“You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” As slogans go, the Swiss watchmaker’s is one of the more ingenious. Along with the accompanying imagery of well-heeled parents and their immaculate children, the message conveyed is emotional, aristocratic and aspirational.
At a somewhat cheaper price-point Qihoo 360 also wants to convince consumers that its latest timepiece will be treasured by families, although in this case it will take care of their physical well-being.
Zhou Hongyi, chief executive of the internet security software maker, has announced that Qihoo 360 is launching a new device – termed by Zhou a smart bracelet – with a lifesaving function in mind. The gadget – which like a watch can tell the time – will go on sale in December, and will help parents to protect their children from human trafficking and other tragic accidents, Zhou told the China Daily.
The Qihoo device – known as the 360 Children’s Guardian – comes equipped with a GPS system. Parents can track their kids in real-time using a downloadable app from the Qihoo 360 site. Alerts can be set up if a child strays from the normal route home from school, for example. Moreover, at parental request, the watch can transmit brief voice messages from the child explaining that they’re okay (“Don’t worry, mum, just gone to Mei’s house to play Minecraft”).
Zhou, a father of two, says he designed the device because of the rising number of accidents involving children: “We want to provide high-tech products that are truly needed, and we think this product can help parents protect their children.”
To that end, Zhou adds that the new product is not-for-profit and will be priced at cost – which is Rmb199 ($32).
Given the tracking functions on the Qihoo bracelet, it ought to come as no surprise that it is attracting interest from another demographic – wives and girlfriends – who see it as a means to keep track of their significant others.
Zhou might have bigger ambitions in the ‘wearable technology’ market. Forbes China has reported his firm has plans for a more sophisticated smartwatch priced around Rmb1,000 so as to undercut other brands (Samsung’s Galaxy Gear costs more than Rmb1,800).
Other Chinese tech firms are also showing interest in the market. Search giant Baidu is planning to launch its own smartwatches, while Xiaomi, a smartphone maker, is reportedly designing its own model too.
There are grounds for optimism on the market’s potential. In a survey conducted by Baidu, 93.1% of the interviewees said that they knew about smartwatches and 70% of the group said that they would be willing to purchase one.
But China’s first homegrown smartwatch didn’t fare too well when it was launched this summer. The Android-powered GEAK watch, which sells for $325, suffered from lukewarm sales. Industry observers say consumers were deterred by the price tag, although others have suggested the watch had too many features and was cumbersome to use.
Qihoo’s Zhou has also acknowledged that the smartwatch might struggle to appeal to male consumers (and not only because they’ve been given one by a suspicious spouse). “For men, the reason for wearing a watch is a public display of social status. The key is fashion and design. Chinese companies, big or small, tech-savvy or not, don’t have fashion design skills and are not capable of leading a fashion trend,” says Zhou.
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