Sony Opens the SmartWatch. It’s About Time!


How cool would it be if some big consumer electronics company that is really great at hardware design sold a smartwatch you could buy for under $100 that was open to any developer’s firmware?

That would be amazing, because as an open platform genius software developers could compete with each other to create the ultimate smartwatch experience, and they wouldn’t need to fuss with designing and manufacturing a physical hardware smartwatch.

Well, it’s happened. Sony this week announced an Open SmartWatch project that invites developers to create and flash their own firmware for the Sony SmartWatch.

This is bigger news than it sounds. 

Sony is actually joining the open-source hardware movement. Sony! They’ve even published a SmartWatch hacker guide.

Sony has long offered an SDK for developers to write apps for the existing platform. But this is different — and surprising.

Sony’s Open SmartWatch project is massively good news for the following three reasons:

1. Sony’s Open SmartWatch Adds a Powerful Option for Crowdsourced Projects

Yesterday, Sony held a SmartWatch hackathon in Malmö, Sweden, aimed at using Arduino firmware on the watch. There will probably be many more such events and projects in the future.

I would much rather see a plethora of Android-based firmware projects emerge (and I’ll be monitoring the crowdfunding sites for projects to support)

Specifically, I would love to see developers create a high-performance system that delivers existing Android app functionality and interactivity to the watch.

To date, some of the better smartwatch projects have been launched by tiny, crowdfunded companies. These include the Pebble and Agent smartwatches.

I love these projects and want them to succeed wildly.

However, I would also like to see options where the firmware is developed by nimble, innovative young startups who can take advantage of the hardware design and manufacturing prowess of a consumer electronics giant.

Once Apple and Google launch their smartwatches, it would be great to have small firmware projects on the Sony SmartWatch already on the market.

2. Sony’s Open SmartWatch Doesn’t Have to Be a Watch

The Sony SmartWatch isn’t built onto the band. It clips on to the band, or your shirt, or onto any kind of mount anyone might imagine.

In fact, it’s only the firmware that makes it a “wristwatch.”

The hardware itself is just a tiny 128 x 128 pixel resolution color touch screen powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 CPU that can connect to other devices via Bluetooth and vibrate when software commands it to.

It could be a TV remote. Or a bike computer. Or a panic button. Or a baby monitor. Or a smart dog collar. Or a gazillion things.

There are probably hundreds or thousands of brilliant programmers out there who have a genius idea for a very small device but don’t have the skill or money to get the hardware together.

The Sony SmartWatch gives them a really nice piece of hardware that’s likely to be updated in the future, with documentation and other help.

3. Sony’s Open SmartWatch Suggests an Open Sony Trend

The news about Sony’s surprising embrace of open hardware comes after some pretty solid rumors that Sony will soon release a “Google Edition” Sony Xperia Z. (Look for that announcement on June 25.)

I’ve always believed that a lot of truly excellent Sony mobile hardware has been essentially ruined by that company’s smothering bloatware and proprietary interfaces.

If the Xperia Z rumor is true, that means this embrace of non-Sony and open-source interfaces for their hardware is officially a trend — one both surprising and welcome.

What both these nuggets of information have in common is that in both cases (again, assuming the rumor is true), Sony is doing it right.

They’re launching both the bloatware version and an open alternative and letting consumers choose.

Wow! Imagine if Sony did this with everything from tablets to laptops to PCs to TVs to even cameras.

If Sony could become the champion of open software and open hardware, they would instantly become relevant again. They could even become profitable again. And they would certainly become a real alternative to the Apples and the Samsungs of the world.

And if that happens, the announcement of Sony’s Open SmartWatch project would in hindsight be the first step in this transformation.