HP threw a curveball when it announced a surprisingly good-looking smartwatch earlier this year, the Michael Bastian-designed Chronowing. It doesn't have the horsepower of an Android Wear device or the to-be-released Apple Watch, but the Chronowing still manages notifications from your phone, has a neat subdial that simulates an analog watch face, and — this is key — actually kind of looks like a real watch.
But HP didn't make the Chronowing, it turns out. Multiple sources familiar with the relationship have confirmed that the manufacturer behind the timepiece is Meta, the Fossil spinoff that recently launched its own M1 line of smartwatches penned by former Vertu designer Frank Nuovo.
The relatively low-resolution, monochrome square display format shared by the Chronowing and M1 is a strong hint of the shared DNA, but the real evidence lies on the Chronowing's back: the two devices share an FCC ID and connector style, a curved array of four pins unique to Meta. (You can see the back of the Chronowing in A Blog To Watch's review; the back of the M1 is here.) Though the two products use different companion apps, there are obvious similarities between them.
The Meta M1.
The HP watch may not be a huge seller — its pricing and limited retail distribution practically ensure that it won't be — but for Meta, the implications could be far bigger. The company could be taking a page from Fossil's playbook: though Fossil-branded watches constitute a substantial portion of the fashion accessory giant's bottom line, it also makes hundreds of millions of dollars from its white-label products sold under brands like Michael Kors, Diesel, Burberry, and Armani Exchange, among others. Without a broadly recognized brand of its own, Meta could make a business by offering its platform — a platform it's been working on for several years — to traditional watchmakers and luxury brands that don't have any smartwatch strategy in place.
Granted, watchmakers don't need smartwatches to survive just yet; Fossil itself had strong growth in its latest earnings report without a single smartwatch in its lineup. But low- to midrange brands that haven't started thinking about a strategy may start feeling pressure going into 2015, particularly in the shadow of the Apple Watch. (Premium brands likely won't feel much of anything, thanks to the unique motivations and deep pockets of their clientele.)
Meta and HP declined to comment for this story.