HTC's smartwatch is alive and kicking, and due in early 2015

CNET has learned that HTC still plans to enter the burgeoning wearables business despite speculation its watch was scratched.

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Roger Cheng
3 min read

LAS VEGAS -- HTC still wants in on the wearables game, even after Apple made its big move.

Apple Watch
The Apple Watch, pictured here, may not be the only smartwatch to debut early next year. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The Taiwanese smartphone maker is still working on a smartwatch and plans to release it in early 2015, according to people familiar with the matter. There had been reports that HTC had scrapped its plans because it felt it couldn't compete in the burgeoning category.

HTC is working on a smartwatch that aims to stand out from the crowd. That includes elements of design, which is what the company is known for, as well as features that consumers will more immediately gravitate toward, those familiar with the plans said.

An HTC spokesman declined to comment.

HTC has sent out invitations to an event on Oct. 8 in New York, but the company won't be discussing the smartwatch there, one person said.

A smartwatch from HTC would enter a crowded market -- and one in which consumer demand remains tepid. Samsung Electronics is the leader in smartwatches, having released six models already, and the Apple Watch, unveiled Tuesday, is also slated to hit the market early next year. LG and Motorola, meanwhile, have smartwatches of their own. But it's quickly become the place for mobile device companies to make their mark, each hoping for that breakthrough product.

Despite the push by tech companies, sales of wearables are believed to be weak. In the US, Europe, China, Japan, and Australia, less than 1 percent -- or more precisely, just 0.81 percent -- of consumers own a smartwatch, according to a study by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. Of global smartwatch owners, 51 percent have strapped on a Samsung device, 17 percent use Sony, and 6 percent own a Pebble smartwatch, the research firm said.

Like LG, Motorola, and Samsung for one of its smartwatches, HTC would base its device on Android Wear, Google's platform for wearable devices. But the company will likely use an altered version of Android Wear that would include different elements and features.

It's similar to what HTC did with Android early on. When the Android smartphone operating system was in its infancy, HTC made a lot of early headway with consumers by adding its Sense user interface on top of the platform, creating an easier-to-use smartphone with unique features. It wasn't until Google improved on Android subsequent updates that HTC retooled Sense to be less dominant.

A similar opportunity could arise for HTC on the wearables side. The company also has to solve a few common complaints about smartwatches, including the bulkiness of the devices and the battery life. While Apple offers a design that is slightly slimmer than the competition (it is still a fairly thick watch), the company was mum on battery life on Tuesday.

HTC could use the spark. Once hailed a pioneer in Android -- having built the original Android smartphone in the G1 -- the company has seen its market share evaporate as larger companies such as Samsung muscled it out of the premium smartphone game. Despite winning rave reviews for its metallic body, the HTC One M8 hasn't made a huge dent in the market.

The early 2015 time frame does represent a delay from HTC's previous target of putting out a smartwatch in time for the holidays this year, which Chairwoman Cher Wang laid out in an interview in February.

With the market likely frozen until Apple offers its watch for sale early next year, HTC has a little extra time.

CNET's Shara Tibken contributed to this report