Whatever happened to the HTC smartwatch?

CEO Peter Chou says HTC is still plugging away on the project but wants to "be very careful." Meanwhile, the competition just keeps getting hotter.

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HTC CEO Peter Chou at the Mobile World Congress press conference. He did not unveil a new smartwatch. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

BARCELONA -- It could be a while yet before customers actually see HTC's elusive smartwatch, which is still in the works.

That's the word from HTC CEO Peter Chou, who was reluctant to spill any details about the project.

Check out CNET's full Mobile World Congress 2015 coverage here.

"We try to be very careful instead of just putting out whatever, so we keep working on it," Chou said in an interview here at the company's Mobile World Congress conference booth.

It's a telling comment at a show where HTC, looking to break into new fields, unveiled not only a smartphone -- the HTC One M9 -- along with a fitness tracker developed with Under Armour and a virtual reality headset built in partnership with video game developer and distributor Valve. HTC has reason to be cautious. The field of smartwatches got even more crowded at this conference, yet it's unclear if consumer demand matches vendors' enthusiasm.

The delay is the latest wrinkle for a product that has been talked about for more than a year. HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang said in an interview a year ago at this show that a smartwatch would be ready by the holidays. Then the launch date moved back to early this year. Now it's nowhere to be seen.

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Instead of a watch, the wearable that HTC unveiled at its Sunday press conference was a fitness tracker called the Grip , which features GPS technology, a low-power monochrome organic light-emitting diode display and basic smartphone notification capabilities. The Grip will target traditional athletes.

It's a long way from the jewelry-like smartwatch that HTC, with its reputation for strong design, was expected to bring to the market.

"People think watches are jewels," Wang said last year. "It's natural for us to have wearables because we're a design company."

The Android-powered Huawei Watch is designed to bring a more classic look to the smartphone market. Stephen Shankland/CNET

But the landscape has changed since Wang made her comments. Google unveiled its Android Wear operating system a year ago, making it easy for a number of companies to announce their own smartwatches. The most notable: Motorola, which came out with the eye-catching, circular Moto 360. It also employed metal components and a leather band to mimic a traditional high-end watch.

And a slew of other competitors have followed. LG showed off two round smartwatches, the Watch Urbane and Watch Urbane LTE , which both feature colored stainless steel body. The Huawei Watch stunned with a stainless steel body and sapphire display.

Not that there's been clear demand for the products. Six devices running the operating system accounted for 720,000 units, or just 15.6 percent of the total 4.6 million wearable products shipping last year, according to research firm Canalys.

And next month will bring the Apple Watch, which -- if it follows the lead of the iPod, iPhone and iPad -- could prove a juggernaut.

As for HTC, the simpler answer could be that the company is busy. Along with the two new products it debuted at the show, the company said it is plugging away on other connected products.

"We have a lot of things we keep working on," Chou said.

He declined to comment when asked repeatedly about a potential launch. "You have to wait until we have something to announce," he said. "You know me, I'm a more conservative person."

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