Watch for These Winners in the Smartwatch Battle

Google (GOOG) just threw its first punch of the smartwatch battle and moved a few rounds ahead of Apple (AAPL), which still appears to be working on a strategy for climbing in the ring.

Toq smartwatch ConclusionAt least for now, the Android systems maker is on top.

Tim Cook and company have alluded to entering new product categories this year, so calling this a TKO might be a tad premature. Plus Samsung, maker of the recently announced Tizen-powered Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch, has plenty of fight left.

There’s a huge prize for the winner and runners-up in this battle. Market-research firm ABI projects that smartwatch shipments will climb to 90 million in 2019, up from 7.5 million this year. The broader wearable device market is expected to be much bigger. ABI sees 450 million such devices shipping in 2019, up from 54 million last year.

It’s not just the major players that will be winners. Many companies that were immediately linked to Google’s announcement of Android Wear, a wearable device platform for the newly unveiled LG G Watch, have already seen their stock go up—literally and figuratively.

LG, the company that developed the watch, has only described it as square, made of plastic and a small frontal display. The cool factor comes with how it operates on Android Wear software.

The software brings voice control and Google Now to the watch so a simple glance at your wrist can show the day’s weather or upcoming events or travel time. Voice command will allow you to call up songs from your smartphone playlist or even hail a cab. Email, text, tweets … it will link your entire online world to your watch.

By the time the planned launch rolls around in second quarter 2014, the G Watch should work with a “wide range” of Android devices, including new sensors to track fitness activity similar to devices sold by Fitbit and Jawbone.

While LG has the most intimate relationship with Google’s Android Wear right now.

Here are two more key companies to watch as the smartwatch ecosystem evolves:

Motorola Mobility (Owned by Lenovo (LNVGY))

motorolamobility-google-logoAs far as technical specs, Motorola isn’t leaking many details regarding its first venture into the smartwatch arena with its Moto 360.

However, the company is very vocal about letting consumers know that the face is round. The thinking is not to force buyers into wearing a watch shape they’re not used to, thus, creating comfort and familiarity right off the bat. In that same vein, think leather and stainless steel.

Of course the biggest selling point is that Motorola’s Android Wear-powered device will work with all Motorola Android smartphones and with any Android device running 4.3 or later. Moto 360 is expected to be available in summer 2014, but no prices have been released.

You might recall that a little over two years ago, Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. In late January, Lenovo  announced that it would acquire Motorola from Google for a fractional $2.91 billion.

Since doing that, shares of the world’s largest PC maker—and new owner of IBM’s $2.3 billion server business—are down 25%. However, that puts the company in undervalued territory, with this new venture with Motorola giving Lenovo the visibility it needs in the smartphone/mobile device arena. With only a 4.9% market share in the final quarter of 2013 as the world’s fourth largest smartphone maker, Motorola’s expertise in phones and mobile technology with Moto X and Moto G is welcomed. It’s expected to help Lenovo establish a much-needed presence in North America.

There’s no reason to believe that the move into the smartwatch market won’t be successful for the now partners … with the ex (Google) working with them hand-in-hand.

Shares of Lenovo are up 3% since March 14.

Fossil Group (FOSL)

Fossil NASDAQ:FOSLFossil announced recently that it is in early R&D stages of a new Android Wear line of clothes and other products and investors voiced their approval big-time. The shares have risen nearly 7% to $120 after the announcement.  Since then they have since settled back to the $116 range.

While Texas-based Fossil owns about 45% of the U.S. fashion watch market, the company has been in a slump lately as demand waned in the larger upscale jewelry segment. However, a survey by Cowen Consumer Tracking showed that 38% of people bought at least one watch last year, so the watch industry is experiencing an uptick.

Fossil’s foray into smartwatches could help retain momentum, although a saleable product won’t be ready until at least the summer. Fossil is already riding the tailwind of an 11.4% jump in revenue over last year.

Interestingly, Fossil has attempted to make its own smartwatch before, but it flopped and never made any money. The hope is that Android Wear will make the watches attractive for both brains and beauty. Fossil caters to mostly women with an eye for fashion, so the “coolness” of the device will be very relevant.

Fossil, with $3.3 billion in annual sales, also licenses brands including Michael Kors and Tory Burch.

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