Meta Watch smartwatch, platform breaks out from Fossil

A group of investors have purchased the Meta Watch assets from watch-maker Fossil(s fosl) for an undisclosed amount, creating a team to focus solely on the connected watch market. The private company will be based in Dallas, Texas, supplemented by a research and development center in Espoo, Finland. Among the investors: Juha Pinomaa, past President of Suunto and one-time Nokia(s nok) executive, as well as Bill Geiser and David Rosales, former leaders of Fossil’s Watch Technology Division.

With key leaders from Fossil taking over the Meta Watch assets, the project’s focus won’t change. Meta Watch will still be a Bluetooth-enabled wristwatch that wirelessly connects to a smartphone for alerts, notifications, messaging and more. The company will continue to sell a development platform for $200, with expected availability this month. The goal remains to make Meta Watch a platform for developers; not to create end-user consumer products.

In advance of the news, I spoke last week with Geiser, who takes on the CEO role of Meta Watch, and asked why Fossil was willing to let Meta Watch go. “It’s a win, win, win,” Geiser told me by phone, saying, “It’s good for Fossil, good for us and good for this category. But the connected watch business wasn’t in scope of Fossil’s core competency of lifestyle products. So this generated an opportunity for a focused team to take this on because when you throw radios in these products, it changes everything.”

I agree with Geiser’s thoughts, in particular the last one because I’ve used several “smart” watches over the past half-dozen years. Simply put: Few have worked well for me outside of the Meta Watch prototype I reviewed this past June. The Meta Watch manages the wireless connection extremely well, runs for a long time on a single charge and smartly provides useful information at a glance, instead of trying to do too much on a small screen.

You can read my full review and impressions of the gadget here, but this summary of my thoughts explains the vision that the Meta Watch provided me:

[T]he MetaWatch team “gets it” when it comes to smart watches. There are many visions of what a smart watch ought to do, but the more functionality added, the more complex and disruptive the technology can be. Perhaps one day we’ll all be talking into our wrist for a phone call, but for the coming future, a display-at-a-glance device with a simple, intuitive interface is saving me much time.

In my use of a Meta Watch prototype, the device hasn’t yet missed a notification from my Android (s goog) smartphone. “We think of ourselves of the FedEx (s fdx) of notifications,” Geiser says. As a result, I found myself relying on the watch to triage my email because notifications are instantly pushed from smartphone to watch. With just an unobtrusive glance at my wrist, it’s a simple matter to see if an email is urgent enough to pull out the smartphone, or if the message can wait until later, for example.

Geiser told me the Meta Watch team will continue to look at other smartphone platforms and also move beyond standard notifications for incoming calls, SMS, email and other alerts. Music control, location-based check-in — perhaps even advertising based on location — navigation and sports activities are all potential areas for the platform. And developers looking to instrument their own apps can easily do so.

We’ll be talking about “smart” watches and other non-traditional connected devices later this month at our Mobilize conference in San Francisco, and I’ll be curious to see where the conversation leads. In particular, we’re not yet at the point for wearable computers to take the place of smartphones in our pocket.

We’re limited by display size and input methods, just to name a few constraints. But for now, an ambient notification system on the wrist can provide far more value than people realize. It’s now up to the Meta Watch team to preach that message to consumers and attract developers to broaden the possibilities for this useful prototype watch.