Swatch CEO says doesn’t want to produce mobile phone for wrist

Swatch unveils a smartwatch that allows users to make payments with the swipe of their wrists via programmable chips.

CORGEMONT, SWITZERLAND (MARCH 12, 2015) (REUTERS) – The world’s largest watchmaker unveiled its riposte to Apple Inc’s smartwatch on Thursday (March 12), announcing a plan to put cheap programmable chips in watches that will let wearers from China to Chicago make payments with a swipe of the wrist.

Swatch Group will start offering watches with near field communication (NFC) chips within two months, chief executive Nick Hayek said at a news conference on the company’s annual results which were released last month.

“Whatever use that you want, you ask some creative people to create some apps and then our chip has different layers that you can programme, yourself. We give it to you. You buy your swatch, the one you like, and then you configure it,” Hayek said.

Apple’s move into watches would open up a market where Swatch was already well positioned to compete, he said.

The Swiss company’s strategy appears to revolve around including individual tech features in different models rather than going head to head with Apple, the world’s most valuable firm, to create all-in-one smartwatches combining many functions.

“I have always said it’s an opportunity for us, but we are not a consumer electronics company. We are not going to transform and put the mobile phone on the wrist. Let do it the others. Samsung did it, Sony did it, everybody does it,” Hayek said.

For its near-field chips, which will cost around 2 francs ($2) per watch, Swatch has teamed up with China UnionPay, the Chinese credit card association, as well as a Swiss bank and a major credit card company.

The credit card company, described as an Olympics sponsor, is likely to be Visa, a long-time backer of the event. Visa was not immediately available to comment.

Swatch is also launching a range of sports-themed “Swatch Touch” smartwatches which will be able to “buddy up” with a smartphone via a Bluetooth connection.

The first model will retail at 135 francs, about twice the cost of a regular Swatch watch with an NFC chip.

“We want to offer to the consumer a product at an affordable price. The “Touch zero one” costs 135 Swiss francs, and above all it’s a watch, with an acceptable autonomy, and you can change the battery yourself. It is in these conditions that we launch products, and the products are there, that is to say we are going to launch them this summer, worldwide,” Hayek said.

Swatch shares were up 2.3 percent at 430.6 Swiss francs at 1525gmt.

Apple’s watch will go on sale in nine countries starting in April, priced from $349 for the smaller model and $549 for the standard version, although a high-end “Edition” watch will sell for at least $10,000.