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Deep inside the smart Swiss watches that challenge Apple Watch with analog panache

Jon Phillips | April 24, 2015
Philippe Kahn is a big man with a big personality and big feelings about Swiss watches. He's got a massive Alpina model on his wrist, and he's bragging about how the watch is water-resistant down to 100 meters, and can last more than two years on its built-in battery.

Maybe even cooler, Fullpower's cloud server can push data directly to your watch. So if you collected sleep data on an Alpina, but then slip on a Frederique Constant upon waking up, your daytime watch will inherit the Alpina data when you run a Bluetooth sync with your phone. This comes in handy, as you can always review the progress of your last recorded activity cycle directly on the watch with a button press.

Oh, and if you were concerned that the Alpina is too bulky to wear in bed, know that there's a mode that lets you collect sleep data with the watch under your pillow.

Alarms, batteries and four moving hands

Fullpower also told me that a high degree of algorithmic processing is executed directly on the module encased inside the watch, so you really don't need to pair with the smartphone app. Nonetheless, syncing to your phone taps into a second level of accuracy that enhances the data collected by the watch sensors, and then a third level of processing kicks in via the cloud for advanced analytics.

I also learned more about Fullpower's alarm hardware. I had assumed it used a haptic motor to buzz owners when it's time to wake up, but Fullpower says that would have led to excessive battery drain. So instead they went with a piezo speaker. The one installed inside current prototype watches is rather weak, and probably wouldn't wake up heavy sleepers. But they also demoed a revised speaker that doubles volume. Now, this one is loud.

The company was much more cagey when it came to discussing its module technology. I wasn't allowed to see PCBs in the raw, and when I asked Kahn how his company achieves more than two years of battery life on a Bluetooth-laden watch, he told me I would need an advanced mathematics degree to understand Fullpower's secrets, and even then he'd need two hours to explain all the power-saving techniques.

But at least I got a tidbit of technical intrigue from VP of Technology Arthur Kingsolving, who explained the quartz timekeeping crystal sits directly on the Fullpower module, which also powers the watch's moving hands. "It's a drop-in module that has everything. There are four motors controlling the hands. It's old-school Swiss technology. We get the data sheet for these motors, and it looks like it's been handed down through generations."

The death of activity-tracking wristbands?

When the first MMT watches arrive in June, they'll land in a curious position between full-bore activity-tracking wristbands and full-bore luxury wristwatches. Ironically, I had been wearing a Jawbone UP24 wristband precisely because it paired nicely, from an aesthetic standpoint, with my TAG Heuer Formula 1. But now the latest-generation Jawbone UPs have taken a step backward in the style department — sorry, I'm not a fan of the new look — and they no longer use Fullpower's algorithms.

 

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