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Facebook Is Secretly Building a Smartwatch and Planning to Sell It Next Year

The social network doubles down on hardware products.
(Jirapong Manustrong)
(Jirapong Manustrong)
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Facebook is reportedly building a smartwatch, with possible plans to release it in 2022, according to a report from The information.

Why It Matters: Facebook has made its intention to enter the hardware business clear. It’s already working on several virtual and augmented reality projects — some under its existing brands like Oculus and Portal, and others like its “experimental” Facebook Reality Labs division. On the surface, it seems like Facebook’s entry into smartwatches is setting up a battle with Apple that it can’t win. But the company does “does have a track record in wearables with its Oculus headsets and forthcoming smart glasses,” The Verge writes.

The Details:

  1. The watch is “said to be an Android-based smartwatch, though the report does not say whether Facebook intends for the device to run Google’s Wear OS.” Facebook is also supposedly working on its own proprietary operating system.
  2. It would feature messaging, health and fitness features, while joining Oculus and Portal in Facebook’s shared hardware ecosystem.

Seen It Coming: Two years ago, Facebook bought neural interface startup CTRL-Labs, which specialized in “building wireless input mechanisms, including devices that could transmit electrical signals from the brain to computing devices without the need for traditional touchscreen or physical button inputs.”

Also:

  • Facebook is planning to release “branded Ray-Ban smart glasses” later this year.
  • It also has a separate research initiative, Project Aria, which represents “the company’s broader AR explorations.”

Facebook declined to comment on any reported smartwatch projects.

Justin Oh:

As weird as it seems, I do think that wearables will be a huge business someday. The problem is that we’re years off from the use cases being fully fleshed out and the technology being small and fast enough to be “fashionable.” 

Consumer-focused wearable technology is clearly a tough enough nut to crack that even Google was too early and gave up on its consumer-focused Glass product a few years ago. Snapchat’s Spectacles product is a really good product (speaking as an early adopter myself), but clearly does not have ubiquitous appeal at its high price point.

The nature of new technological markets is that companies that take the initial market share of profits are the first movers. But in many cases, to be a first mover, a company must unprofitably invest in the market before it’s viable. It’s often too late to wait until someone else “cracks the code” and rush to follow them.

My question is why Facebook has such high hardware ambitions. I don’t see why Facebook would have any inherent advantages over companies like Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft in hardware, since they are a software company in their DNA. 

I would have imagined their time is better spent developing new software products, but this might be a logical next step in their mission to “bring the world closer together.”

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