Ina Fried

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It Turns Out Qualcomm Is Making a Smartwatch, Too

As expected, Samsung is showing off its Galaxy Gear smartwatch at an event in Berlin. In a surprising twist, though, it isn’t the only company announcing a wrist computer today.

Qualcomm is showing off a wearable known as Toq. Although the company is planning to sell the devices to consumers starting in the middle of next month, the watch is as much a technology demonstration as it is a commercial endeavor.

“We expect to make tens of thousands of these, not hundreds of thousands,” Qualcomm executive Rob Chandhok said in an interview. “A success, for us, looks like our partners picking up and running with this. Qualcomm isn’t turning into a consumer electronics company.”

Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs is showing off the Toq watch Wednesday at Qualcomm’s annual Uplinq developer conference in San Diego.

“It’s a second screen for your smartphone, and it is always on,” Jacobs told Uplinq attendees.

The watch, which is pronounced “talk” and is expected to sell for around $300, uses Qualcomm’s Mirasol display — a screen technology that combines the long battery life of E-Ink-style displays with color and other features usually found on an LCD display. It also packs Qualcomm-backed WiPower LE wireless charging, and connects to an Android phone via Bluetooth.

It features several different watch faces, including one that matches the time with upcoming calendar appointments, and another that displays both time and weather information. The Toq can also control the phone’s music player, as well as display text messages and send one of several preset replies. Clearly designed as a companion to a smartphone, the watch settings are controlled from an app that runs on an Android smartphone.

Watch owners can also get other types of Android notifications that would normally flash on their phone screen. Users can decide which apps’ notifications are shown on the watch. Qualcomm will also make available a developer tool kit that will let interested companies create their own “applets” for the watch.

At the same time, the combination of the Mirasol display and other power-saving features means that the device can be always-on (there’s no on-off switch) and still get several days of use between charges.

“It’s a feature set we ourselves wanted,” Chandhok said, adding that, by tapping into Android notifications, the watch can gain access to useful information without getting any specific support from developers.

Most navigation is done through swipes on the touchscreen rather than by using a combination of buttons. The device does have an accelerometer and a microphone (but no speaker) and, at least in one version, comes with two Bluetooth headphones — which can also be charged wirelessly.

Whether consumers will go for the Toq’s features and its somewhat bulky design is another question. Chandhok said that the current design is far more polished than early prototypes (one of which used a seat-belt-like material for the band). But he also gets that some may find the design and interface less than ideal.

Part of the goal, though, is for consumers to get a good look at Mirasol, which so far has only been used on lesser-known devices, like e-readers in Korea.

“We do think people will react differently to Mirasol if they see it and use it,” Chandhok said. He called Toq an exercise in “thought leadership” that happens to take the form of a for-sale product.

It will be sold online, and will perhaps have a small retail presence, Chandhok said.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald