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Intel recalls smartwatch over safety fears

Intel has suffered a setback in its efforts to become a leader in the emerging market for wearable devices, after being forced to recall a smartwatch for safety reasons.

The world's biggest chipmaker said it had taken the drastic step of telling all customers to return the watch, called the Basis Peak, after finding it "can overheat, which could result in burns or blisters on the skin surface". It had already warned users to stop wearing the device in June after first hearing complaints.

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"We are aware that a small number of customers have reported discomfort, blistering or burns on their wrist under the watch body," Intel said. It did not say how many watches it had sold or how many had malfunctioned, though it put the number of "reported cases" of problems at one in 500 at the time of its first warning.

Intel had also said some customers had complained of "overheating and melting of their charging cradles".

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The Peak was developed by Basis Science, a start-up that Intel acquired in 2014 as it tried to get a jump on what, at the time, was expected to be a big new market for smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Expectations were rising that smartwatches could become a popular extension of the smartphone computing platform, though Apple's Watch, launched a year later, has failed to give the category the lift many in the tech world had hoped.

Described as "the ultimate sleep and fitness tracker", the Peak went on sale in November 2014. It was part of an effort by Intel to develop basic designs and so-called "systems-on-a-chip" for wearable devices, which it could then sell to a wide range of manufacturers.

Intel said the smartwatch had been made by an unnamed company in China, reflecting the widespread use of contract manufacturers there to produce devices for the rapid product cycles often seen in consumer electronics.

Preventing devices from becoming warm is a common problem in the wearable market, given that they pack considerable computing power into a small form factor and are worn next to the skin. Fitbit, for instance, has been on the receiving end of lawsuits claiming overheating and other issues with its range of fitness and health monitoring wristbands, settling a class action case in 2014 over complaints that adhesives in one of its wristbands caused skin irritation.

Intel said it would pay a full refund, including the tax and shipping costs, of $234 to customers in the US and €244 in Europe.

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