By Cho Mu-hyun
Korean technology giant LG Electronics is developing its own smart wristwatch, effectively joining the competition between Apple and Samsung Electronics who are making theirs as well.
A source familiar with the matter told The Korea Times Friday that the Yeouido-based firm's development of the next-generation watch, along with an innovative smart product similar to Internet giant Google's Glass, was part of its long-term strategy to keep its competitiveness in the volatile information technology (IT) industry.
"It is one major part of many currently non-commercialized products under development by LG Electronics," said the source. "The company has spared no efforts to invest in products that it believes are must-haves to stay ahead technology wise in the market, whatever the situation maybe."
The source declined to comment on whether the touch-screen device will run on Android or Firefox operating systems, but both are viable options for the electronics maker.
LG recently announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that it plans to release a phone running on the latter this year. "LG Electronics believe that it is not lacking in technology compared to its competitors, especially Samsung Electronics, and have maintained a consistent standard to keep innovation alive."
Before the wide dissemination of smartphones, LG already had a watch that was compatible with handsets and able to check messages in 2009.
"LG recognizes that it is always important to develop products for the future," said the source.
Apple recently leaked photos and information of its iWatch to foreign media outlets, with some interpreting it as a move to keep the buzz alive around the company. Arch-rival Samsung Electronics also confirmed this week that it was indeed working on a competing product. The iPhone maker has reportedly 100 designers working on their product, while Samsung declined to unveil further details.
The concept of a phone-watch itself is nothing new: Samsung, LG and competitors such as Sony have showed proto-type watches with phone capabilities in the past.
"These releases have been up to now more oriented on creating continuous interest rather an actual product release," said an industry official, not affiliated with LG. "For commercialization, the market must be mature enough, with a strong demand, to accept these products. Not all patented ideas and concepts reach the market."
An executive of a local parts supplier to Samsung said the two Korean firms were "unmatched" in making display panels and had an advantage over competitors in making smart wristwatches, including Apple, as they are fully capable of supplying its own parts for the product.
"Apple, and to some degree Google, which revealed its phone-glass, are reliant on Korean and Japanese parts suppliers for the crucial panels for such devices," he said. "Samsung and LG have an upper hand in that they control most of the needed-parts for a product like smart wristwatches."
"There is of course the fundamental question of whether smart wristwatches will sell like smartphones. Price-range will also need to be thoroughly discussed," he added.
LG and its rival already have advanced technology in making display-panels that can bend to fit the shape of a wristwatch, and are also developing ones that are completely flexible. Both companies' highly-touted panels are used by Apple and major Chinese vendors such as Huawei and ZTE, among others.
Samsung and LG both unveiled curved 55-inch organic light emitting diode (OLED) televisions in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, proving that it has technology to make devices with bended screens and commercialize them.
LG전자도 손목시계형 스마트폰인 “와치(Watch)폰”을 만들고 있어 삼성-애플만의 경쟁으로 알려졌던 미래형 제품 경쟁이 더 격해질 것으로 보인다.
또한 LG 전자는 와치폰 외에도 구글의 안경형 스마트폰을 준비를 하고 있는 것으로 밝혀졌다.
22일 LG의 차세대 제품 개발에 직접적인 관련이 있는 한 업계 관계자는 “LG도 차세대 스마트폰 방식의 손목시계형 폰을 준비 중인 것으로 알고 있다”며 “장기적으로 업계에서 기술력 경쟁에서 우위를 점하기 위한 것”이라고 설명했다.
그는 손목시계형 스마트폰이 “LG가 개발중인 아직 상용화되지 않는 제품들 중 중요한 부분을 차지하고 있다”고 하면서도 어떻한 운영시스템(OS)을 쓸지에 대해서는 함묵했다.
LG의 다수의 스마트폰 제품들은 구글의 안드로이드 OS를 쓰고 있으며 최근 MWC(모바일월드콩그레스)에서는 모질라(Mozilla)의 파이어폭스(Firefox) OS를 이용하는 폰을 올해 출시한다고 밝힌바 있다. 이 관계자는 두 OS 모두 가능성이 있다고 말했지만 내부적으로 확정이 안된 것으로 알려졌다.