Take a look at the watch above. Does it seem like a smartwatch? It is, it's just in disguise; the Withings Activité, announced Monday, buries its tracking tech under the surface, inside a very classic-looking watch. It might be the start of an overdue trend: everyday watches getting a little smarter.
There are a lot of fitness bands right now, and a few smartwatches that track fitness. French device maker Withings has another idea -- a real analog watch with embedded fitness tracking inside. The Activité, coming this fall, looks like a regular watch. That's because it is, in a sense: it's a Swiss-engineered stainless-steel watch with sapphire glass, with a battery life of one year. And it's waterproof to 5atm, or 50 meters, so it's suitable for swimming.
Inside is an accelerometer, just like in other fitness bands, to track steps, sleep, and even swimming strokes. The watch also vibrates to wake you up or tell you when you've hit a fitness goal. And, yes, it syncs via Bluetooth LE -- only with iOS devices, though -- and can even change time zones automatically.
How do you see your progress? Where's the display? There isn't one, just analog watch hands. One set of hands shows the time, while a second set moves to show daily goal progress via the pedometer. To change modes, you tap the watch face.
The Activité's design, according to Withings, is inspired by the original French pedometer, created in 1723. (A quick peek at an early pedometer at Museo Galileo shows that maybe that's not far off point.) Whatever the inspiration, it looks extremely sharp, and a far cry from most other recent wearables. But it does have some company: the Martian Notifier and Passport, two analog smartwatches that have LED displays in addition, and require USB charging. The Activité uses standard watch batteries.
The Activité won't be cheap: it'll cost $390 when it goes on sale in the US this fall, and £320 in the UK from August. Australian pricing and release dates haven't been announced, but Withings sells some of its gear there, so it's possible it'll appear before the end of the year. A simple price conversion gives around AU$415.
It'll come with both a leather and a rubber band, easily swappable without using any special tools. The watch will be available in both silver and black, in just one unisex-intended design. But the goal of the Activité is to be a watch first, while also being a good fitness tracker.
It's "the services and features you'd expect, in a truly discreet and seamless way," Withings CEO Cedric Hutchings told CNET. "These trackers have failed at finding a way at sticking around. Now, we can design a true watch and have all the benefits of these trackers without having a piece of tech on your wrist."
Hutchings explained that the Activité isn't a shift in Withings' designs, but an evolution toward including smart sensors in all sorts of devices: Withings already makes a connected scale that looks and acts like a normal scale. "We say connected now, but in the future we'll just think of it as a useful scale, or a useful watch...useful as opposed to connected."
Withings has another, far less expensive activity tracker, the Pulse O2, that will still be sold alongside the Activité. In addition to the Activité's fashionable appearance, for many, its most compelling features may be its long battery life and waterproof design, features that the Pulse O2 lacks, and that few other wearables can boast (the Garmin Vivofit for long battery life, the Pebble smartwatches and Misfit Shine for water resistance).
It helps that Withings' first true watch looks absolutely striking. In fact, it seems like excellent timing for the Activité to be announced: its round, classic watch face feels similar to that on the Moto 360, expected to make a debut at this week's Google I/O conference.
You know the Activité is unlike any activity tracker you've seen or held before the minute you take it in your hand. From its leather strap to its stainless steel body, the watch shouts premium from every angle. What surprised me the most: the size of the watch face. Despite a unisex design, the Activité should look great on any wrist size, which is rare in the current wearable market.
In short, the Withings' watch looks beautiful, and could be the type of useful, just-smart-enough accessory that some everyday wearables really need to be...especially if they're meant to survive in a landscape likely to be swamped with big new products very soon. It's an intriguing alternative to Android Wear, or what we think the iWatch will end up being.
Last updated Tuesday, June 24, at 11:15 a.m. PT: Hands-on impressions from Withings' New York City press event have been added.