Just eight days before Apple’s scheduled release date for more details about its highly anticipated smartwatch, Chinese competitor Huawei jumped into the burgeoning market with the bold launch of its own device on Sunday. As Huawei takes a clear “luxury” approach to marketing its round-faced timepiece to square off against Apple’s square device, it has an uphill battle on its hands in the China market.
Huawei unveiled its new watch at an event associated with the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, presenting an Android-powered device that comes in gold, silver, and black with customizable watch faces. Like Apple Watch, it has three editions: a “business,” “casual,” and “sporty” style, but features a round face and a screen that looks more like a regular watch than Apple’s high-tech digital screen. This is all part of Huawei’s push to market the piece as a “luxury” watch rather than simply a piece of utilitarian wearable tech. This was apparent in a recent promotional video launched by the company using the word “timeless” to describe the watch, emphasizing its design and craftsmanship.
As a wearable device, a smartwatch needs fashion credibility more than a gadget like a tablet or phone. Like Huawei, Apple has also taken this to heart as it has made its own strides to win over the fashion sphere with its smartwatch—especially in China. The Apple Watch made its editorial debut on the cover of Vogue China, appearing on the wrist of top Chinese supermodel Liu Wen. It also recently made its way into Hong Kong fashion magazine East Touch ahead of its launch. The brand has been making several other big strides to woo the fashion industry, including poaching executive Angela Ahrendts from Burberry to gain some high-end style expertise, unveiling the watch at New York Fashion Week, inviting luminaries including Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld to a special Apple Watch showcase at Paris Fashion Week, and hosting a 250-person dinner co-hosted by Azzedine Alaïa at the designer’s showroom.
Huawei may hope that its round face will give it more fashion credibility with consumers, but this could actually backfire when it comes to the China market. The Chinese company still has Apple’s entrenched high-end brand status in China to contend with: Apple was recently listed by the Hurun Report survey of wealthy Chinese consumers as China’s top “luxury brand,” beating out all traditional labels such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton. While the square face is less classic, this could end up being to Apple’s advantage in China if the company can succeed in making the distinctive shape a status symbol in itself. Huawei needs to overcome the “Chinese brand” stigma it faces in China as Chinese consumers continue to favor foreign fashion labels and view Apple as the best brand to show off.
Whether both companies (and their growing number of rivals also launching smartwatches) thrive or fail in China, they can likely all agree on the fact that China’s high-tech consumers will make the country a key sales battleground. Chinese consumers are especially known for their willingness to quickly embrace new technology, and wearable tech companies are placing significant focus on the China market as they shape their global strategies.