Apple Watch launch is also a boost to competitors

The Alcatel OneTouch Watch.
Source: Alcatel

Like most of Apple's product launches, the imminent arrival of the Apple Watch has brought an avalanche of hype, and a ton of fawning reviews.

An unintended consequence, though, is the attention it gives to competitors' wearables launching around the same time--some of which are much cheaper.

"Apple (has) left room for the competition with their fairly high price," Nick Spencer, senior practice director at ABI Research, said. "I think this enables the consumer scenario of, Apple has launched a smartwatch, therefore I need one, but don't want to pay $349, so I'll buy a (cheaper) Android watch instead."

One example: The Alcatel ONETOUCH Watch, which works with both Android and iOS, and is available for pre-order now at $149.

The watch stands out with a USB plug in the wristband that allows charging without extra cables, and has a stated battery life of two to five days.

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The round-faced watch with an old-school metal clasp won Tom's Guide's "top smartwatch" from CES this year. The device offers fitness tracking, app alerts and remote control of a phone's camera and music player. It connects with Android or Apple iOS phones through bluetooth and syncs the data through a custom app.

It's about "what can we do to democratize smart watch technology. It's not just about the early adopter or geek. Part of our innovation is being disruptive in pricing," Alcatel spokesman Jason Gerdon said. "I imagine that as we find success with the watch we're going to see others come into this space."

So far, slightly higher-priced smartwatches by Samsung, LG and Motorola have failed to gain much traction with consumers.

Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder said "the market remains tiny today, but 49 percent of U.S. online adults say that they would be interested in a wrist-based wearable like a smart watch."

ABI Research and Strategy Analytics data show about 5 million smartwatches were sold in 2014, with Samsung leading with its Samsung Gear S.

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Strategy Analytics predicts that number will jump more than five times to 28 million smartwatches in 2015, with Apple the lead provider.

"If Alcatel succeeds in selling lower-cost smartwatches to Apple iPhone owners, Apple will be forced to react by selling a cheaper watch model for its second-generation devices later this year," said Neil Mawston of Strategy Analytics. Apple didn't respond to requests for comment.

So far, the market has not yet been fully satisfied by the available smartwatches.

"In terms of functionality, none of the competition has quite got it right yet, partly because the developer community has been standoffish. Again, Apple has the ability to generate activity here too, helping the competition," ABI's Spencer said.

Pebble, the Kickstarter smartwatch project, already offers compatibility with both Android and iOS for devices that begin at $89.

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"Pebble specifications and performance don't match up well with the Apple Watch," said Alex Gauna, analyst at JMP Securities. "However, we admire the entrepreneurial energy of the company and believe it is doing a good job of raising awareness for the category."

The greater interest in smartwatches still leaves lower cost providers with the challenge of getting their product into the market.

Alcatel's marketing strategies rely heavily on social media and a partnership with 5K running event The Color Run. The competition, which is growing in popularity internationally, sprays runners with different colors every time they pass a certain milestone.

Alcatel's Gerdon said the firm is stepping up its marketing efforts this year. "We do know we need to continue to grow our brand," he said.