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Swiss launch of Apple Watch hit by patent issue

Apple is not able to launch its new smartwatch in Switzerland until at least the end of this year because of an intellectual property rights issue, Swiss broadcaster RTS reported on its website. The U.S. tech giant cannot use the image of an apple nor the word "apple" to launch its watch in Swiss.

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The Apple Watch, the firm's first new device since Tim Cook became CEO, will be available in stores in nine countries on April 24.

The world's largest watchmaker Swatch unveiled its riposte to Apple's smartwatch last month, 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.

In 1982, after taking a licking from Japanese competitors that had championed quartz batteries, the Swiss watch industry was facing an existential crisis. But rather than seeing the mechanical movement as a weakness, Jean-Claude Biver, 65, who had recently purchased the defunct Blancpain brand, boldly declared that this artful anachronism represented the industry’s future. “Since 1735, there has never been a quartz Blancpain watch,” Biver’s new slogan declared. “And there never will be.” A decade later, he backed up his words with results and sold Blancpain to the Swatch Group for $43 million.

Today, the Swiss watch industry is again robust—in 2013, there were more than $20 billion in exports—but the advent of the smartwatch and the release of the Apple Watch have pessimists once again wondering if time is running out on tradition.

So this March, at Baselworld (the watch industry’s annual Super Bowl), Biver—now president of the LVMH Group’s watch division, which includes TAG Heuer and Hublot—made another bold statement: “We cannot ignore the trend of the smartwatch.” But this was no capitulation; rather, it was a rallying cry for the Swiss watch industry’s counter-offensive against the smartwatch’s incursion into its territory.

Apple is due to ship the Apple Watch in nine regions on April 24. Those include the US, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan, and the UK. Sales are expected to expand to more countries, with Europe likely to be a focus, but the pace of the rollout will be dependent on how quickly Apple's suppliers and manufacturing partners can work.

Late last month, a source informed AppleInsider that shipments of the Watch will probably be constrained at launch. Apple is said to be prepared for the issue though, which may make the situation little different than the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. After several months, Apple's production chain eventually caught up with demand.

More than half of the crowd waiting at Apple’s store on Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse on Friday appeared to be under 30 years old. Many said it will be their first timepiece.

“Young people are definitely the target audience of the Apple Watch,” said Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel AG in Zurich who was part of the throng. “Swatch is now challenged to bring something to the market that will excite young people.”

The Biel-based watchmaker, which also makes high-end Omega and Breguet timepieces, is responding to Apple with a Swatch model that will be able to make mobile payments. Other Swiss brands have also said they’re introducing electronic devices, including TAG Heuer, Montblanc and Frederique Constant.

Swatch fell 1 percent to 378.2 francs at 4:17 p.m. in Zurich. Apple was little changed at $127.57 in New York.

The Swiss prices for Apple’s new gadget run from 389 francs ($417) for a Sport model to 17,500 francs for one with a gold case. Most people in line said they had their heart set on the cheapest version. When the device first arrived in shops in New York, London and Beijing in April, crowds were scarce.

One man who stood in front of the entrance said he was just there to fix his broken iPhone screen. Told what the crowd was for, he replied, “What’s the Apple Watch?


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