Facebook is taking a unique approach to its first smartwatch, which it hasn’t acknowledged publicly but is expected to launch next summer. The device will have a display with two cameras that can be detachable from the wrist and used to take photos and movies that can then be shared across Facebook’s suite of apps, including Instagram.
When detached from the stainless steel wristband, a camera on the front of the watch display may beused for video calling, while a 1080p, auto-focus camera on the back may be utilized to capture film. According to two people familiar with the project who requested anonymity to speak without Facebook’s permission, Facebook is enlisting the help of other companies to make attachments for attaching the camera hub to items like backpacks.
The goal is to get watch owners to utilize their watches in the same manner they use their smartphones. It’s part of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to create more consumer products that bypass Apple and Google, the two most powerful mobile phone platform creators who essentially control Facebook’s ability to reach people.
The upcoming device is Facebook’s first foray into wrist-based hardware, putting the company in direct competition with Apple at a time when the two companies are already at odds on other fronts. While Facebook has been plagued by problems about its handling of user data for years, Apple has actively positioned itself as a privacy defender by limiting the kind of data that apps like Facebook can acquire.
Facebook is working with the leading wireless carriers in the US to offer LTE connectivity in the watch, which means it won’t need to be paired with a phone to work, and sell it in their stores. The watch will be available in three colors: white, black, and gold, and Facebook anticipates a low-six-figure first sales volume. According to Counterpoint Research, Apple sold 34 million watches last year, a minuscule fraction of the global smartwatch industry.
Future iterations of the watch will act as a primary input device for Facebook’s planned augmented reality glasses, which Zuckerberg believes will one day be as common as cellphones. The company intends to leverage the technology it bought from CTRL-labs, a business that has developed armbands that can operate a computer using wrist movements.
Facebook plans to deliver the initial version of the watch in the summer of 2022, with second and third iterations planned for the following years. Employees recently discussed selling the device at around $400, but that figure may change. While it’s doubtful, Facebook may drop the watch entirely, as it hasn’t gone into mass production or even been given an official name.
Facebook has a shaky track record when it comes to hardware development. Its HTC phone from 2013 was a disaster, and it has yet to release sales figures for its Oculus VR headsets or Portal home video chat device. In recent interviews, sales of the Oculus Quest 2 headset have outstripped all previous Oculus headsets combined.
Facebook has been interested in developing a smartwatch for several years. Prior to Google’s purchase of Fitbit in 2019, it considered doing so. According to one of the people familiar with the situation, the social network has spent almost $1 billion developing the first version of its watch and employs hundreds of employees.
The Information previously revealed that Facebook was working on a wristwatch with health and messaging features, but this story adds additional details regarding the watch’s cameras and other features. That dynamic could make it difficult for Facebook to persuade people to buy its upcoming Apple Watch competitor, especially because the watch will also serve as a fitness device with a heart rate monitor.
Facebook wants to use its suite of apps and external collaborations to create interesting experiences for the watch, which will feature a companion app for phones, using a bespoke version of Google’s Android operating system. Even so, the success of Facebook’s wrist wearable is far from guaranteed. Smartwatches with cameras have yet to gain traction, and Apple has already monopolized the high end of the market.