Seiko Epson is not the most well-known of the Japanese electronics giants, but the company has been a name brand in printers for years and may be one of the most innovative watchmakers around.
In 1969, Epson released the world's first "quartz clock" wristwatch, and in 1985 launched the revolutionary RC20. One of the first "smart" watches, the RC20 included a whopping 8-bit microprocessor and a 42 x 32 pixel display (wowzers!).
This week, Epson showed off its latest foray into the smartwatch market: the Pulsense activity tracker. Pulsense is a bio-sensing wrist band that monitors and stores heart rate, activity level, calorie burn, and sleep patterns.
These are all pretty standard features in the fitness band market, but there are a few notable highlights that may help Pulsense stand out from the pack.
For one, Epson believes the Pulsense's low power demand will provide the longest battery life in the category. Epson also seems to be banking on in-watch data storage, as it includes enough built-in memory to store up to 480 hours of heart-rate data before requiring a transfer to smartphone or PC.
The Pulsense line includes two models: the PS-100 ($129) and PS-500 ($199). The more expensive watch includes an LCD display for real-time monitoring of heart rate, steps walked, calorie burn, and date/time. Both models include access to Epson's free cloud-based portal.
The Pulsense looks like it could compete directly with market leaders Fitbit, Jawbone, and Nike+ when it's released this summer, but with so many fitness bands unveiling at CES this week—including the Wellograph and Garmin vivofit—any leader will need to innovate to survive. Epson's open-source strategy, which will provide avenues for third-party development, may be the force that drives that innovation for the Pulsense.
Wearable tech is a cutthroat market, and it's one of the biggest trends at this year's CES. Juniper Research expects 70 million wearable devices to be shipped in 2017, making for some $80 million in sales. Driving this market, according to Epson, will be a focus on sensor technology, app integration, data visualization, and cloud storage. These components will make up the so-called "quantified self."
Skeptics are likely to scoff at such Orwellian parlance, especially when it comes to augmented reality (AR) glasses—another space in which Epson was an early entrant. In 2011, when Google Glass was just a rumor, Epson launched the Moverio BT-100—a clunky $700 AR system designed for engineering purposes.
At Monday's press conference, Epson unveiled its latest set of AR glasses: the Moverio BT-200. These will also retail for $700, and will ship this March.
Unlike other AR glasses, the BT-200s project a stereoscopic virtual display with a 23-degree field of view. Gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetic compass sensors open up more doors for gaming and hands-free navigation.
Other features include an Android-powered controller unit, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, 960x540-pixel resolution, and a front-facing camera for video and still image capture.
While the Epson representative boasted how the BT-200 display is "directly in front of your field of view," we're skeptical that it will be superior to Google's approach, which places the UI in the corner of the user's field of vision. At the very least, it seems like it might be a safety concern. But then again, the Epson Moverio is pitched as an entirely different type of AR device.