Adidas runner's watch puts diverse world of wearables in the spotlight

The US$399 watch will focus on runners' needs and won't talk to phones

Adidas Interactive Vice President Paul Gaudio wore the company's new smart watch on Wednesday at the GigaOm Mobilize conference in San Francisco,

Adidas Interactive Vice President Paul Gaudio wore the company's new smart watch on Wednesday at the GigaOm Mobilize conference in San Francisco,

Wearable mobile devices are diversifying even before some big bets have been proved out.

Adidas unveiled a smartwatch on Wednesday that will be focused on a virtual coaching service and won't communicate with smartphones. It's designed for runners, who often don't want to carry a phone on their workouts, said Paul Gaudio, vice president of Adidas Interactive. He showed off the watch for the first time Wednesday at the GigaOm Mobilize conference in San Francisco.

It will go on sale Nov. 1 for US$399 and use GPS to tell runners how far they've gone and how fast. It can also monitor heart rate, which will inform a coaching service that can guide runners up to their desired heart rate and back down, Gaudio said.

There's also an audio player built in, with Bluetooth to communicate with headphones. The coaching service can use visual and physical cues and even audible guidance based on the user's preference, Gaudio said.

One of the big challenges in developing the watch was leaving out features and streamlining it for the task of running, Gaudio said. Synchronizing with a mobile phone was one capability the company determined many runners could do without.

"At a certain level, they get to a point where they don't want to be bothered with carrying a phone," Gaudio said. It can be a matter of both reducing carried weight and escaping from the world of alerts and calls.

Wearable fitness monitors, such as the Fitbit and Nike Fuel families, were early hits in a market that's still taking shape. Others, such as Google Glass, aren't full commercial products and in some cases are still controversial.

Glass may be a useful device for certain specialized users, including surgeons, soldiers and even some serious athletes, said Olof Schybergson, CEO of design consultancy Fjord. But he questions the product's mainstream potential. "I don't think it's a mass market product, at least not yet," Schybergson said.

Adidas made a device for the wrist because consumers are already in the habit of wearing watches, Gaudio said. Several companies have come to Fjord wanting to develop smartwatches, but many just want one because it's considered the hot new form factor, Schybergson said. Adidas had very clear goals, he said.

Qualcomm, which last month introduced its Toq watch as a limited-edition showcase product, is focusing on making a range of services available rather than on pushing specific devices. Toq is intended to show off Qualcomm technologies, including AllJoyn, a protocol for device-to-device communication.

With AllJoyn, the company hopes to foster an interoperable ecosystem that spans multiple devices and radio technologies, said Rob Chandhok, president of Qualcomm's Internet Services and Innovation Center. Popular mobile services will help to drive sales of devices that use Qualcomm chips, he said.

Speaking later at Mobilize, Chandhok took a different tack from Gaudio's on the roles of devices and services.

"The opportunity here, for those that are making wearables, is to think about what the interfaces are for these devices. Because I may want to put on a different watch for fitness, then put on a different watch for productivity, then put on a different watch for fashion, but I don't want my services to all be disparate from each other," Chandhok said. "What does it mean for the apps that are on my phone already to take advantage of another display, or another set of devices?"

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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