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Smartwatches
While the rest of the world might just be waking up to the potential of wearable technology, CSEM has been active in the domain for more than 20 years. CSEM’s research in microelectronics, microsystems, and systems has paved the way for the invention of smartwatches.

Smartwatch. From the word on all our lips to the watch on all our wrists? It's now undeniable that these low-power, wireless, embedded, wearable sensing systems will play a significant role in what’s to come. Sales are set to break the billion unit mark before 2020 is out—and it’s just the beginning. They’re (a big part of) the future and no one is better placed to capitalize on this than CSEM, with two decades of related research and development under its belt.

Reducing the amount of power devices use—and changing how they work together and integrate with one another—inspires much of CSEM’s innovation when it comes to microelectronics.  For smartwatches to improve they need to be better at picking up or sensing things at the front end; a feature CSEM has a proven track record of making possible.

Another of the current stumbling blocks for smartwatches is their limited autonomy.  CSEM is working to fix this—designing energy-harvesting solutions, such as flexible, thin-film silicon PV, to extend smartwatch self-sufficiency. Bringing together innovative sensing and processing technologies, CSEM has a strong and strategic IP portfolio in wearables.

With its roots in Swiss watchmaking and its wearable technology expertise, CSEM is geared to be a worldwide leader in smartwatch solutions.  It also doesn’t hurt that we’ve partnered up with market success stories such as the developers of the revolutionary emergency Swiss watch, Limmex (www.limmex.com), or of the world’s most accurate optical heart rate monitor sports watch, the NOKIA spin-off PulseOn (www.pulseon.com). CSEM also led the development, with Icon Health and Fitness (www.ifit.com) and regional partners, of the soon to be released “iFit Executive”—a highly connected sports watch that can measure pulse rate while maintaining a classic Swiss look.

Assumptions and outlook

CSEM's Business Day World Café roundtable on smartwatches

During CSEM’s November 2015 Business Day, Pascal Koenig, co-founder and CEO of Ava AG, and Jens Krauss, Vice-President of Systems at CSEM, led a discussion with industry experts about smartwatches and their potential impact on the Swiss watchmaking industry.

Pascal Koenig began his presentation with a historical look at the modern watch industry—from the first wristwatches, via the quartz revolution, to today’s smartwatches—illustrating in the process the extent to which the success of smartwatches has taken much of the industry by surprise. While industry leaders were quoted in 2013 and 2014 as being non-believers in the coming revolution, smartwatch sales revenues are moving from zero in 2010 to a predicted USD 117 billion by 2020. Koenig also highlighted that the four most important use cases are: 1) notifications for messaging, agendas, and maps, 2) health and fitness with integrated body sensors, 3) security, communicating directly with healthcare providers, and 4) payment options that could eventually replace credit cards.

Jens Krauss introduced the wide range of technologies that are either adapted to or specifically designed for the smartwatch domain: antennae, speakers, sensors, touch displays, and communication—a world away from traditional watch manufacturing, but not an insurmountable challenge for a Swiss industry with solutions in microelectronics and low-power devices already well developed. And while the combination of technologies necessary to create attractive and efficient smartwatches already exists, room for improvement in energy autonomy, application ecosystems, data storage, and manufacturing quality are all excellent opportunities for development in key sectors where Swiss industry is active or has room to expand.

Roundtable expert opinion converges on the big questions

In the discussion that followed the two presentations, it was agreed that the all-important killer app for the smartwatch domain has yet to be found, and that the industry is still in its infancy. And if companies are to successfully address the smartwatch market, there will need to be a level of collaboration between software companies, network providers, and watchmakers that goes beyond anything currently in place.

One of the big questions raised during many of the afternoon’s discussions and across most of the subjects addressed at this first CSEM Business Day was the security of data. And the discussion on connected watch was no exception, and for obvious reasons: many smartwatches—including those developed at CSEM—also deal with health data. So who will own this data and what could it be used for beyond personal use, especially in the future?

The question of how to develop an easy to adopt platform also raises the all important issue of hardware/software integration for all connected objects. While Switzerland is well positioned to address hardware questions—especially extreme miniaturization and ultra-low-power devices—Swiss industry has yet to develop the software capacities required for it to be a serious player in this sector. This point closely echoes similar concerns for Switzerland’s complicated role in the emerging market of the Internet of Things.

Could Swiss industry develop its own operating system that could rival Apple and others? If a Swiss company was to develop a successful and widely adopted user interface for smartwatches, this could simultaneously resolve many of the data privacy and hardware integration questions, thus providing a boost for the country’s watchmaking industry. Keep a lookout for that start-up!

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