By Michelle Graff
Swatch Group said the Swatch Touch Zero One is “Swiss Made, it’s a Swatch, so there’s no need to charge it up every night--the standard Swatch battery lasts for months and months,” a nod, perhaps, to the battery life question surrounding ApCorgemont, Switzerland--When it comes to smartwatches, it seems that Swatch Group is content to let Apple do the heavy lifting. 

Following months of speculation about the Swiss watchmaker releasing a smartwatch that would directly compete with the just-unveiled Apple Watch, Chief Executive Nick Hayek said that the company is introducing Swatch Touch watches that can communicate with smartphones and, within two months, will be offering a $2 near field communication chip that can be inserted into other Swatch watches.  

But that is all, at least for now. Hayek was quoted at the company’s annual press conference held Thursday in Corgemont as telling attendees that, “We don’t want to produce a mini mobile phone on your wrist. Others can do that.”

Near field communication technology, or NFC, refers to the technology that allows mobile phones to work in tandem with other devices when they are held in close proximity to each other. QR codes, for example, work using NFC and so does Apple Pay, a feature of the Apple Watch. 

The Swatch Group’s NFC chip would mirror Apple Pay, allowing wearers to pay for goods with a swipe of their watch. When asked what else the NFC chips would enable the watches to do, a Swatch spokesperson said, “It could do whatever you program it for ... you may program your own chip according to what you need, and whatever near field communication will allow.”

Its new sports-themed Swatch Touch watches, which include the Swatch Touch Zero worn by Hayek at the press conference, will be able to communicate with smartphones and will start at about $135, less than half the price of the least expensive Apple Watch, which retails for $349. Functions include telling wearers how steps they’ve taken, calories they’ve burned and allowing them to pick a virtual coach. 

By exercising restraint in the smartwatch segment, Swatch has taken a page from the playbook of Apple, which is known for allowing others to be the first out with a product only to later introduce a device that becomes the top-seller in its category. 

“I think the big question mark is, will Apple’s introduction of the smartwatch lead to an explosion of demand for smartwatches and start a new segment?” Jon Cox, a Zurich-based analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, said in an interview with National Jeweler earlier this month. “There is still some debate if Apple will revolutionize the segment.” 

The Swatch Group’s annual conference was held to announce the results of its annual report for 2014

As reported earlier, the Swiss watchmaker saw sales rise 5 percent in 2014 but saw net profit and operating income decline sharply. 

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