Alibaba Planning A Budget Smartwatch

By Rory Betteridge | 25 Sep 2015

Chinese e-commerce and online marketplace giant Alibaba announced plans to co-develop a payment service oriented smartwatch, saying it plans to crowdfund the new device on the group’s major marketplace Taobao starting next month.

The Pay Watch, a joint venture between Alibaba and tech group FiiSmart, will be powered by a new wearable-focused version of YunOS, and will integrate with Alibaba’s own Alipay platform, functioning using on-demand QR codes retailers scan at the checkout. Other specifics include a 1.63in AMOLED screen capable of 320×320 pixel display, a dual-core CPU, 4GB of storage, and compatibility with Bluetooth, Android and iOS. The device is expected to retail for about $160, but no plans had been revealed for an English-language release.

Designed and manufactured by Shenzhen-based company FiiSmart, the watch operates on the new ‘YunOS for Wear’ operating system and supports Alipay payment, among many other functions,” an Alibaba spokesperson said to VentureBeat. “We are happy to partner with innovative companies who are devoted to adopting the latest technology to bring ultimate convenience to consumers.”

Alibaba expects users to be able to handle all the usual Alipay functions through the Pay Watch, on top of making purchases over Taobao, receiving weather updates and push notifications from a connected smartphone, and certain health functions involving the in-build heart-rate monitor and pedometer. The impressive suite of features invites almost inevitable comparisons to the Apple Watch, but to offer so much for almost an eighth of Apple’s asking price would make the Pay Watch an enticing product in the West.

“On first impression, it seems likely that Alibaba will be selling this smartwatch at close to cost, if not at a loss, as a way to get more consumers plugging into its ecommerce platforms and attaching credit cards to Alipay accounts,” writes Michael de Waal-Montgomery for VentureBeat, “I wouldn’t expect the Pay Watch to be made available anywhere outside China.”

If the goal is indeed to get more users to adopt Alipay, then perhaps a Western release of the device would push the boundaries of plausibility. With that said, while the West is struggling to decide what to make of smartwatches and their generally high buy-in price, and a budget smartwatch might turn a lot of heads.

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