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Meta Watch hands-on: the wristwatch gets a second wind as a smartphone companion

Meta Watch hands-on: the wristwatch gets a second wind as a smartphone companion

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Watchmaker Fossil is no stranger to intermingling technology with timepieces -- it's done both Palm OS and MSN Direct models in the past few years -- but the company's latest venture is targeted squarely at the developer community, which makes Google I/O a great place to show it off. The new wristwatches are basically blank canvases that will be shipping to hackers in July, sold under the Meta Watch sub-brand and bundled with an SDK and everything you need to write apps that can communicate with other devices (namely, phones) over Bluetooth.

There are two models, both priced at $200: an all-digital style (pictured above) with a neat mirrored 96 x 96 monochrome LCD, and an analog style with two smaller OLEDs positioned above and below the watch hands. Besides Bluetooth, they feature ambient light sensors and 3D accelerometers -- both unused in the shipping devices with the intention that developers will play ball and make them do cool things. A four-pin connector on back serves double duty for charging and JTAG connectivity for programming.

In talking with the company, it's clear that they're looking for help from the dev community to make the platform compelling enough to sell to end users -- and to that end, they've brought an entire case of possible designs, ranging from sporty (think impact- and sweat-resistant rubber) to luxurious. My favorite was the all-digital design in all white, which -- much to my disappointment -- is only being used internally and won't be sold, though I was told that they might look at doing some sort of contest down the road to give them away. At least initially, developers buying these things from TI's online store will only be able to choose black for both models.

It won't be completely without capability when you pull it out of the box, though: they're showing off fully-functional Android integration here at I/O, including an app you'll install on your phone where you can choose what types of notifications to forward to the watch. For me personally, that's really all I'll ever need or want it to do, though there was one potential application that caught my attention: they're suggesting that future versions of the watch could incorporate a slightly different radio chip from TI that includes support for Bluetooth Low Energy, which would allow it to serve as a gateway between BLE-compliant devices (say, heart rate monitors) and phones that don't natively support BLE. Of course, we're getting ahead of ourselves there -- first thing's first, which means selling a bunch of these to creative devs who don't buy the common notion that wristwatches are on the way out.

Meta Watch hands-on pictures