Autodesk as ever has taken the opportunity of SIGGRAPH to highlight the next generation of its storytelling and collaboration tools. “The continued growth of AR and VR and steady flow of new productions from Netflix, Amazon and others, mean animation and VFX houses are in more demand than ever. We’re focused on helping our customers create, connect and compute faster and more efficiently so they can balance their increasing project loads with tighter schedules and budgets,” said Media & Entertainment SVP Chris Bradshaw.

For the overall Media & Entertainment Collection, new subscription benefits include Cloud Rights, popular drawing tool SketchBook for Enterprise, and access to an Arnold 5-pack promo starting Sept. 7.

Maya 2018 offers additional character creation, motion graphics, and rendering functionality. Improvements have made character creation easier, faster, and fun. The motion graphics toolset now includes dynamics and new instancing capabilities. Maya 2018 is available with the latest version of Arnold, including new features and core architecture improvements.

Shotgun has introduced features to simplify workflows, make it easier to integrate creation tools with Shotgun, and strengthen security. Shotgun 7.2 introduced plug-and-play integrations to accelerate artist workflows; updates to RV; and new single sign-on. Shotgun 7.3 continues to build on a secure and reliable foundation for studios by adding improvements that make it easier for site administrators to run and manage Shotgun. Features include smart data retention for improved site performance and community-driven enhancements including improved action menu items and the ability to restart your own site.

Arnold 5.0.1 builds on the strengths of the recent 5.0 release, and includes new functionality like AOV shaders for cryptomatte workflows, thin film for standard surface shader and additional updates and optimizations. Arnold 5.0.1 is available with the latest versions of Maya and 3ds Max or as a plugin for additional DCC applications; and is now available for free to educational institutions through the Autodesk Education Portal.

3ds Max update adds VR authoring tools for design visualization artists and generalists; 3ds Max interactive, a VR engine that simplifies the creation of immersive and interactive architectural visualizations; and additional UX and UV unwrap improvements. Check it out in a 3ds Max to VR Workflow demo at the booth.

Flame Family 2018.2 introduces new creative tools that enhance artist productivity and expand pipeline integration possibilities. Some new features are Pybox, a python scriptable software handler for processing images via external renderers; projector functionality, map inputs and a contextual menu in action; smart merge for the connected conform workflow; and the ability to drive the batch environment via scriptable commands.


Visit booth #801 or click over to Autodesk’s dedicated SIGGRAPH page for details.

HPNVIDIA and Technicolor have teamed up to explore the next frontiers of human colonization with the “HP Mars Home Planet” project. Participants will work together to design and engineer an urban area for one million new inhabitants on our red neighbor, then they’ll bring it to life through photorealistic renders and virtual reality. (NVIDIA also collaborated on Fusion’s Mars 2030 VR experience, launched last year.) The Concept Phase — phase 1 of 3 — kicks off this week at SIGGRAPH, with participants imagining and illustrating a vehicle, building, infrastructure or products — anything from scanned napkin sketches to 3D renderings will be accepted. Participants can register now at — the first 10,000 registrants will receive a Mars 2030 download code and terrain files. The project winners will be announced at SIGGRAPH 2018.


StratusCore announced significant enhancements to its cloud-based Dynamicshot platform for digital artists and creative studios. The platform is already used by global content producers such as Sony, Sony Interactive, Universal, DreamWorks and Netflix, and more than 45,000 digital artists worldwide. This includes new Digital Escrow service with milestone-based review, approval, delivery and payment system; Virtual Workstation Anywhere program enabling creative work in game engines and 3D modeling programs over browser; specialized Game Development Virtual Workstation with access to Unity 2017 and Unreal Engine 4 (support for CRYENGINE and more in development); direct cloud rendering access via LaunchPad; and new pricing models for rendering software.

“There’s a massive opportunity to unleash significant efficiencies in digital content creation with the flexibility, intelligence and collaboration that only the cloud can impart,” said Denise Muyco, co-founder & CEO. “We are staying ahead of the pack by closely working with our artist community and partners to build a potent set of connected services that allow digital artists and studios to better compete in the digital content creation workplace.”

X-Rite Inc. and its subsidiary Pantone have announced that AMD Radeon ProRender for 3ds Max, Maya and Blender natively support the Appearance Exchange Format (AxF) it developed — and in a separate announcement, that Next Limit Technologies Maxwell 4.1 does as well. AxF is a vendor-neutral format that enables the communication of all aspects of a physical material’s appearance – color, texture, gloss, refraction, transparency, translucency, special effects (sparkles) and reflection properties – in a single, editable file to bring physically correct material representations to VFX, animation, product design and 3D visualization. New allies join other leading render and CAD tools Allegorithmic Substance Designer, Autodesk VRED Professional 2017, Lumiscaphe Patchwork 3D, Luxion KeyShot and NVIDIA Iray.

AxF is the foundational component of X-Rite’s Total Appearance Capture (TAC) ecosystem, a solution that brings a new level of accuracy and efficiency to the capture, communication and presentation of physical materials in the virtual world. This is comprised of the TAC7 scanner, PANTORA Material Hub desktop application, and Virtual Light Booth (VLB). Physical material samples are scanned using the TAC7 scanner, which captures appearance properties digitally to create AxF files that store appearance data. The files are stored, managed, viewed and edited in the PANTORA desktop application.

In both TV crime dramas and real-life courtrooms, fingerprints are often the lynchpin connecting a criminal to a crime. Many studies have demonstrated that the loops, whorls, and arches on an individual’s “friction ridge skin” are unique enough to be admissible as evidence, but few have investigated whether they remain the same over time. Therefore, fingerprints have been used by law enforcement and forensics experts to successfully identify people for more than 100 years. Though fingerprints are assumed to be infallible personal identifiers, there has been little scientific research to prove this claim to be true. As such, there have been repeated challenges to the admissibility of fingerprint evidence in courts of law.

It turns out that fingerprints do evolve, but only slightly: A statistical analysis published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that fingerprints change over time, but not enough to impact forensic analyses.

The study followed 15,597 subjects, whose prints were taken at least five times over a minimum of 5 years. The results show that larger time intervals between printings reduced the odds of correctly matching a print to a finger in the database, but only by an operationally inconsequential amount. Further, the scenario in which an innocent defendant would be wrongfully convicted—where the machine finds a match even though there isn’t one—was even less likely, with a probability close to zero regardless of the time between printings. Overall, the best predictor of mistakes was the quality of the image. Poor images yielded more errors, leading the team to conclude that image quality plays a bigger role in explaining the variation than elapsed time.

“We wanted to answer the question that has plagued law enforcement and forensic science for decades: Is fingerprint pattern persistent over time?” said Anil Jain, University Distinguished Professor, computer science and engineering, at Michigan State University. “We have now determined, with multilevel statistical modeling, that fingerprint recognition accuracy remains stable over time.”

Jain, along with his former Ph.D. student Soweon Yoon, who is now with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, used fingerprint records of 15,597 subjects apprehended multiple times by the Michigan State Police over a time span varying from five to 12 years.

The results show that fingerprint recognition accuracy doesn’t change even as the time between two fingerprints being compared increases.

The paper by Yoon and Jain, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the largest and most thorough study of the persistence of Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems, or AFIS, accuracy.

Experts agree that Jain’s research addresses one of the most fundamental issues in fingerprint identification and is of great importance to law enforcement and forensic science:

  • “This study is one of the fundamental pieces of research on a topic that has always been taken for granted. The permanence of fingerprints has not been systematically studied since the seminal work of Herschel was presented in Galton’s book: Finger Prints (1892, Macmillian & Co.). Although operational practice has shown that the papillary patterns on our hands and feet are extremely stable and subject to limited changes (apart from scars), the study presented in PNAS provides empirical and statistical evidence.” Professor Christophe Champod, Université de Lausanne, Switzerland.
  • “This study is a monumental achievement and one that will benefit forensic science teams worldwide.” Capt. Greg Michaud, director of the Forensic Science Division, Michigan State Police.
  • “Dr. Jain’s analytic quantification on fingerprint persistence of the results significantly support early studies on fingerprint persistence and yet further support legal requirements for peer review and publication.” Jim Loudermilk, senior level technologist at the FBI Science and Technology Branch.

The University of Zurich will become the second place in Europe to carry out zero-gravity flights in order to study the effects of a weightless environment.

Through parabolic flights launched from the Dübendorf military air field by the French company Novespace, individuals who are willing to pay CHF8800 ($9366) will be able to experience weightlessness without leaving Earth’s atmosphere. The University of Zurich will use the flights to carry out experiments that would normally have to be done in space. According to Olivier Ullrich of the university’s Institute of Anatomy, his team carried out two such experiments at the International Space Station last year and now wants to be able to do similar research within Switzerland through zero-gravity flights.

The first flights will take place in September and will be carried out using a remodeled Airbus A310. Each flight will last about 90 minutes, during which time the airplane ascend and descend rapidly several times, forming the shape of a parabola. The passengers will experience weightlessness 15 times for 22 seconds each time. A video from Novespace illustrates how the flights work.

The first day of the flights will be reserved primarily for scientific experiments being carried out by Ullrich and his team as well by his colleagues in the veterinary sciences department.

“The experiments won’t be the main focus [of the flight],” Ullrich explained. “Instead, it will be about whether the flights are doable and whether it makes sense to continue to offer them for research and development purposes.”

On the second day, flights will be offered to the general public for CHF8800 per person. Those fees will cover the costs of carrying out the flights as a pilot project. According to Ullrich, a handful of people have signed up to date. Each flight has room for 40 passengers.

Following the initial flights, the university will decide whether to offer them more regularly for continued research purposes.

Elsewhere in Europe, such zero-gravity flights are currently available in Bordeaux, France, where they are also carried out by Novespace, a partner of the French Space Agency CNES.

The company Swiss Space Systems (S3) has also announced plans to launch zero-gravity flights for the public in Switzerland.

When you’re in an industry as mobile as the construction industry, finding economical ways to improve productivity and customer relations is always a top priority. The construction industry often requires the coordination of key players across multiple job sites. Effective project management practices must be put into place in order to successfully complete each job. From communicating with clients and staff  to having access to project changes, schedules, and budgets, the successful completion of each job requires a great deal of connectivity. As such, the new advancements in cloud based technologies have allowed construction companies to streamline such processes effectively.

Cloud computing is a method in which individuals utilize a network of remote servers, hosted by a chosen provider over the internet. The servers allow users to easily store, manage, and process information from various platforms. This is an alternative to having to utilize local servers and/or personal computers which limits mobility. For construction companies who have invested in cloud based software and other technologies through trusted vendors, it means the efficient management of many of their business applications. It allows construction companies to store pertinent data and easily access it from any form of mobile device.

There are several advantages that construction companies can take advantage of by investing in cloud based technology.

  • Remote Access – Whether your staff is in the office, in a meeting with clients, or at a job site, cloud based technology allows them to connect from anywhere with the use of varying mobile devices.
  • Improved Collaboration – The construction industry requires a great deal of collaboration amongst staff and owners. Cloud computing helps to facilitate such cooperation. Users are able to share documentation as it pertains to various jobs, edit information and address changes, view necessary information such as blueprints and drawings, as well as hold video conferences.
  • Reduced Costs – Cloud application providers save construction companies a great deal of money. Construction companies now have the application, processing power, and storage capacity necessary to carry out jobs of all magnitudes from virtually anywhere.
  • Scalability – As a construction company’s needs grow, cloud based technology provides a simplistic means for adjusting. Whether they need more storage capacity or additional service applications, this can be done efficiently to meet those needs.
  • Data Security – The right cloud applications provider will have varying layers of security in place to protect important business information. They will provide a series of solutions for data backup and ensure that authorized users of the application are allowed to receive uninterrupted use of their data.
  • Improved Customer Satisfaction – developing and maintaining strong relationships with owners is the best way to stay successful. By investing in cloud based technology, construction companies are able to improve productivity and efficiency on each product as well as keep their clients in the loop throughout the entire process.

Technology has certainly helped many businesses to streamline practices, improve productivity, and lower costs. When it comes to the success of your construction business, determining which forms of technology to invest in is quite evident. Cloud based applications and technology provides many benefits and allows businesses to effectively produce quality results. If you are considering the possibility of investing in such services for your business, it is ideal to research several cloud service providers to ensure that you’re putting your data in the hands of a qualified company.

Google Glass OOB Experience (Photo credit tedeytan)
Google Glass OOB Experience (Photo credit tedeytan)

Technology has had a massive impact in the classroom over the last decade but rarely has the arrival of a new device been so hotly anticipated. While it is still early days, trials of Google Glass are already giving an insight into whether it will live up to its hype as a teaching tool.

Google Glass has only been available to the public for a few weeks, but over the past year educators have been signing up to the Explorer Program to trial it in schools.

Many are understandably enthusiastic, but their experiences have also highlighted issues that schools will need to address before it can be widely adopted.

At first sight this excitement appears justified. A wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) has myriad applications. Among the most intriguing possibilities is allowing the teacher to see a lesson from the student’s perspective, at the same time as keeping an eye on whether they’re paying attention.

This seems to have massive potential. For the first time, teachers will get an idea of what it’s like to be a student in one of their lessons. The gain in understanding not just how much students understand but what made them understand it could be a significant step forward in helping educators analyze their own practise.

Activities recorded by Explorer teachers include students using Glass to create videos of projects, seeing how pupils approach new tasks, and using it to capture and archive parts of a lesson for future review and reflection.

There is no shortage of teachers recounting their experiences of Glass. Among the many blogs worth reading for an insight into the practical implementation of Glass – as well as some of the challenges – is 365 Days of Glass, written by Margaret A Powers, working with pupils at a lower school just outside Pennsylvania.

She has used it for everything from recording dance to tackling maths problems. “Seeing how students work and respond to a problem-in-the-moment is always a great tool for educators,” she writes.

Others are more circumspect. Wisconsin tech ed teacher Josh Fuller’s verdict after his three weeks using Glass was up that although it enhanced some aspects of his teaching it was difficult to see it becoming a necessity. Silvia Tolisano, a teacher at the American School in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is recording some of the advantages of using Glass, as well as some of the practical issues, in her blog.

For teachers considering the impact Glass could have, these and other Explorers’ blogs are essential reading. By detailing how Glass is actually being used they provide a solid base for evaluating it as an educational tool

While it is still early days, there are signs that Glass could make a difference in the classroom. But you don’t have to be a sceptic to be cautious of every new gadget that comes along. It’s true that many of the ways it is being deployed could just as easily have been achieved through a smartphone or tablet. Students may love using Glass now, but the novelty will soon wear off.

Schools also have to address the issues thrown up by wearable technology, not least of which is privacy. The devices also have an obvious potential for disruption in the classroom, way beyond the distractions caused by smartphones.
These should not be insurmountable – similar concerns were raised over smartphones – but existing policies will need to be updated and new protocols may need to be put in place (not wearing Glass in school bathrooms, for example). The debate over allowing calculators into exams will also seem a mere sideshow when Glass is up for discussion.

Price is obviously an issue. At $1400 a headset it is beyond the reach of most school budgets on anything but an experimental scale. The assumption is the price will come down; whether it fall enough for schools to adopt Glass on any scale is another question.

But Explorers have barely scratched the surface of what Glass can achieve. The augmented reality function is one that seems underdeployed as yet but has undoubted potential. Field trips could be transformed if students saw a full description of what they’re looking at alongside the object itself.

School cupboards are full of tech that was hailed as a major innovation but bit the dust because teachers lacked the know-how to use it fully, or found that its amazing capabilities were rarely called upon. It is unlikely the same fate will befall Google Glass, but there is more exploring to be done before the jury gives its verdict on whether it will make a real difference in the classroom.

By Nick Morrison
Source: Forbes

Vodafone UK Netflix on mobileVodafone Group Plc’s U.K. customers who sign up for high-speed mobile service will get a six-month subscription to streaming movies and TV shows on Netflix as the carrier expands into content.

The offer will be available starting in July for customers who sign up for Vodafone Red 4G voice-and-data plans that cost more than 26 pounds ($44) a month, Newbury, England-based Vodafone said today in a statement.

The company has similar deals with music streaming service Spotify Ltd. and British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc’s Sky Sports service, encouraging wireless customers to stream more content. Vodafone said this week that bundling high-speed access with content is driving higher data usage, a trend that may lead to higher monthly bills and help reverse service-revenue declines. Bloomberg reported Vodafone’s talks with Netflix Inc. (NFLX) April 17.

Service revenue, the sales Vodafone gets from selling voice and data plans, declined 4.4 percent in the U.K. last year from a year earlier. The company introduced faster fourth-generation service in the country last year, trailing the rollout of larger competitor EE, and plans to cover 91 percent of Europe with the technology by 2016.

Vodafone is planning to expand its content partnerships to faster growing “emerging markets,” Chief Commercial Officer Paolo Bertoluzzo said this week.

“What you’re seeing here in the U.K. is an experience that we are replicating everywhere else because we really believe that the content, video and music in particular are going to be a big driver,” Bertoluzzo said in a meeting with analysts.

Vodafone shares fell 0.2 percent to 204.25 pence at 10:04 a.m. in London. The stock has lost 17 percent over 12 months.

By Amy Thomson

Source: Bloomberg

Hewlett-Packard is headed for a third straight annual sales decline amid lackluster demand for its PCs, printers and servers (Photographer-Vivek Prakash-Bloomberg)
Hewlett-Packard is headed for a third straight annual sales decline amid lackluster demand for its PCs, printers and servers (Photographer-Vivek Prakash-Bloomberg)

Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman, still struggling to turn around Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ), is opting for more job cuts, a move that boosted shares the most in six months.

After reporting an 11th straight quarter of declining sales, Whitman is propping up profit by paring as many as 16,000 more employees, on top of 34,000 already announced. While she has stabilized Hewlett-Packard after years of management upheaval and presided over a 39 percent share climb since taking over in 2011, the company is facing its third straight drop in annual revenue.

Consumers are buying fewer personal computers and printers as they embrace smartphones and tablets, and companies are opting to use more software via the Internet or building their own machines. By shedding workers, Whitman is lowering expenses, which will free up cash for investment in new businesses and enable her to report better profit.

“It clearly gives them more cushion to work on the revenue growth,” said Abhey Lamba, an analyst at Mizuho Securities USA Inc., who has the equivalent of a hold rating on the stock. “It’s going to be challenging to deliver that revenue growth.”

Profit excluding certain costs in the period ended April 30 was 88 cents a share and revenue fell 1 percent to $27.3 billion, the Palo Alto, California-based company said in a statement yesterday. Analysts had on average predicted profit of 88 cents and sales of $27.4 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Seeking Growth

Hewlett-Packard shares gained 5.5 percent to $33.54 at 11:46 a.m. in New York, the biggest intraday increase since Nov. 27. Through yesterday, the stock had been up 14 percent so far this year, compared with a 2.4 percent gain in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Net income in the fiscal second quarter rose 18 percent to $1.27 billion, or 66 cents a share, from $1.08 billion, or 55 cents, a year earlier. The company’s one percent year-over-year revenue decline in the second quarter was the closest it’s come to growing since 2011.

The company’s 1 percent revenue decline in the second quarter was the closest it’s come to growing since 2011. Sales shrank 1 percent in the first three months of the year and analysts are predicting they will fall by the same amount again in the current period.

“We want to become a growth company — this is the second quarter of basically flat revenue,” Whitman said in an interview yesterday.“While you may say that’s not very exciting, it’s way more exciting than the historical declines we’ve had for the last eight quarters. The fact that we’re stabilizing revenue is encouraging and positions us well for the future.”

Final Cuts

The job cuts announced yesterday don’t reflect worsening demand for the company’s products, the CEO said on a conference call. Whitman said she doesn’t anticipate the need for further cuts. Hewlett-Packard had 317,500 employees at the end of October.

For the third quarter, Hewlett-Packard forecast that profit, excluding amortization, restructuring charges and other costs, will be 86 cents to 90 cents a share. That compares with the average analyst estimate for 90 cents.

Industrywide global PC shipments dropped in the first three months of 2014 as consumers in emerging markets opted for smartphones and tablets, while corporate demand helped slow the pace of decline. Quarterly shipments fell 4.4 percent to 73.4 million units, IDC said. Hewlett-Packard’s market share rose to 16 percent, making it the No. 2 vendor after Lenovo Group Ltd., Gartner Inc. said last month.

Real Gains

Second-quarter revenue in the personal-systems unit, which includes PCs, rose 7.4 percent to $8.18 billion, boosted by sales of business computers. Printing-division sales fell 4.3 percent to $5.83 billion.

One of Silicon Valley’s oldest companies, the manufacturer’s product range spans from PCs and home printers to the servers, networking gear and software used by corporations. Hewlett-Packard has fallen behind in mobile computing at a time when consumers have migrated to smartphones and tablets made by Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

Hewlett-Packard’s enterprise-computing unit, which includes servers, had sales of $6.66 billion. Within that division, revenue from servers based on Intel Corp. technology rose 0.8 percent. Storage sales were down 5.7 percent, while networking revenue climbed 6.5 percent.

The enterprise-services division posted a 7 percent decline in sales to $5.7 billion.

“I don’t know that we’ve seen much that makes one feel that they can actually grow again,” said Rob Cihra, an analyst at Evercore Partners Inc. He has the equivalent of a hold rating on the stock.
By Ian King

Source: Bloomberg

Night School uses a smartphone app to let riders know when buses are coming. Riders can also suggest new routes for the company via the app.

A new service called Night School will start carrying people across between Oakland and San Francisco in school buses on Friday and Saturday nights after BART has stopped running.

The shuttle service, which costs $10 a month for unlimited rides — for now — begins May 23.

Alex Kaufman and Seth Capron, who started the business, have been friends since they were six, and rode a school bus together as children in New Hampshire.

Kaufman, 34, lives in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, and was frustrated about not being able to get across the Bay Bridge at night cheaply and safely.

“I realized we could use some of the thousands of school buses that sit empty every night,” said Capron.

Starting with two buses and with union drivers — both from school bus service First Student — Night School will make just one stop on each side of the bay, at 17th Street and Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland and at 18th and Valencia streets in San Francisco’s Mission District.

A smartphone app will give riders updates on where the bus is and when it will arrive at their stop, so they won’t have to wait around in a sketchy area in the dark.

Each bus will also have a “conductor” to supervise boarding and generally keep order while the driver pays attention to the road, said Kaufman. Though First Student is providing the union drivers as part of the deal, Night School itself will hire the conductors.

“At first, in fact, it will be me,” said Kaufman.

Night School got “a little bit” of funding, Kaufman said. “But it’s a low cost model. We’re not buying the buses. Our main cost has really been developing the app.” He said four engineers worked on the software, which was done partly in house and partly by outsiders.

The app not only lets the bus conductor know a rider has paid for the service, but it also lets riders vote on where the service should expand. “We hopefully will scale up pretty quickly,” Kaufman said.

Capron and Kaufman haven’t yet decided when the introductory $10 monthly fee will end, nor how much they are likely to charge after that.

Night School plans to donate 5 percent of its profits to a program that supports teacher recruitment and training in Oakland.

by Steven E.F. Brown

Source: Upstart Bizjournals

GENEVA — A decade ago, Nick Hayek, chief executive of the Swatch Group, and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, introduced in New York a new kind of watch called the Paparazzi. It was presented as the pioneer of the so-called smartwatch, giving the wearer access to news, stock quotes and other data via Microsoft’s MSN service.

But the Paparazzi proved a flop. And the joint venture between the world’s largest watch maker and the software giant was broken off.

Since then, watchmakers have been biding their time. They have stood on the sidelines over the past year as consumer electronics companies like Samsung and Sony rolled out smartwatches that enabled people to read text messages and emails, and in some cases make phone calls and take photos, directly from their wrists.

Last week, Google introduced a new version of its Android operating system software made for smartwatches, amid speculation that Apple was also set to enter the wrist wars soon with a product that industry followers have already dubbed the iWatch.

Growing interest in smartwatches by consumers and technology companies might seem a perfect opening for the industry that really knows watches: the makers of fine Swiss timepieces. But for various reasons, none of the Swiss industry leaders seems committed thus far to combining diamond bezels with digital bits.

Even following Google’s announcement last week, Mr. Hayek sounded wary — and certainly not keen to revive the kind of alliance struck with Microsoft, which he said left Swatch with plenty of unsold Paparazzis.

The smartwatch products developed by Google and others, in Mr. Hayek’s view, raise several problems compared with traditional mechanical watches. The drawbacks, he said, include their limited battery life and the fact that they are “trackable” by the National Security Agency and other intelligence services.

“People don’t want these complications,” Mr. Hayek said during a news conference last week. Instead, he said, “watches remain a piece of jewelry.”

The watch industry gathers in Basel, Switzerland, on Wednesday for the weeklong Baselworld watch and jewelry convention. So if any surprise smartwatch announcements are imminent, that might be a logical forum.

So far, however, watch executives have been noting the price gulf between smartwatches that sell for hundreds of dollars, and luxury-brand mechanical watches that generally cost thousands — even if some of those same executives welcome the idea that products like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, introduced last September, are making people focus more on wristwear.

“The arrival of Samsung and others will not hurt the luxury watch sector, and there is in fact room for everybody,” said Richard Mille, founder of the watch company that bears his name.

Mr. Mille drew an analogy with the car market. Electric engines and other technological advances, coupled with efforts by governments to limit speed and fuel emissions, had not reduced demand for gas-guzzling sports cars.

“With all these speed and other restrictions, it should have made it much harder to sell such cars,” Mr. Mille said. “But I don’t see that people have decided to stop buying Ferrari, Porsche or Maserati.”

About 1.9 million smartwatches were shipped worldwide last year, almost two-thirds of which already operated on Google’s Android system. That was up from 300,000 in 2012, according to research from Strategy Analytics, a technology consultancy based in Boston.

Matt Wilkins, director of Strategy Analytics, said the smartwatch market was “starting to take shape” with “huge scope” for growth.

Traditional watchmakers, however, say it is too soon to predict seismic changes for their part of the industry.

“It’s the young people of today who will decide tomorrow whether the traditional watch really is in danger or not – and it’s very easy to get that forecast wrong,” said Jean-Marc Jacot, chief executive of Parmigiani Fleurier.

As an example of a miscued forecast, Mr. Jacot said that “the arrival of the snowboard was supposed to kill traditional skiing, but that’s clearly not what’s happened.”

In fact, some watch executives contend that their super wealthy clients are reaching a saturation point in embracing new technologies — similar to the way they are looking to eat artisanal organic food amid concerns about agricultural industrialization.

“We’re arriving at a stage where people are getting tired of technological machines, because I think they are invasive,” said Philippe Léopold-Metzger, chief executive of Piaget. “If I go out at night or am invited to a dinner, I don’t take my phone with me.”

Christian Knoop, the chief designer of IWC, another watchmaker, said “people are seeking a counterbalance to abstract digital products and are instead fascinated by a product that is made in factory that has been there more than 140 years, by craftsmen who are sometimes from the second or third generation.”

Mr. Knoop, who previously designed aircraft interiors, consumer electronics and furniture, said that “people have really got a lot of trends wrong because however good the technology gets, there is still a lot of human behavior and psychology involved.” Headsets, for instance, offer “clear functional advantages,” he said, “but haven’t replaced the behavior of actually touching and using a phone.”

The watchmakers’ wariness may have something to do with their industry’s turbulent history in recent decades. In the 1970s, Japanese companies flooded the market with quartz watches that pushed the Swiss watch industry to the brink of collapse — including Swiss makers that unsuccessfully attempted to switch to the cheaper quartz timepieces.

But Mr. Hayek’s father then took over and merged two struggling manufacturers and revived the whole Swiss industry with the introduction of the inexpensive Swatch watch. The fashion frenzy generated by the colorful plastic Swatches in turn required the group to develop mass volume production, also making it the dominant player in watch component manufacturing.

These days, the Swatch Group has a broad product line that still includes its inexpensive Swatch brand but also luxury brands like Breguet and Blancpain. Last year, Swatch made its biggest acquisition to date by buying the watch and jewelry business of Harry Winston for $1 billion.

Given Swatch Group’s breadth, some other prestige-brand watchmakers say the company may be well poised to jump into the smartwatch segment.

“Swatch has got massive development potential, great labs, so I’m surprised they’re not somehow competing with Samsung,” said Mr. Jacot, the chief executive of Parmigiani Fleurier.

But Swatch is still smarting from its Microsoft experience. “We don’t try again to be the first one to go out there,” Mr. Hayek said.

Jon Cox, a watch analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, a brokerage firm, said it was hard to see this first generation of smartwatches hurting Swiss watches that retail for more than $1,000 — which is 90 percent of the Swiss industry.

But in the longer term, Mr. Cox suggested that Swatch could change tack again if the second generation of smartwatches triggered a consumption boom.

“If the market takes up, you can bet Swatch will get involved,” Mr. Cox said.

Few other Swiss brands are likely to follow, though.

Jean-Claude Biver, a former Swatch executive who now heads the watches division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — which owns TAG Heuer, Zenith and Hublot — said the problem for Switzerland’s watch industry was not uncertainty over the growth of smartwatches but the fact that this nascent sector was incompatible with the marketing and production strategy that underpinned the luxury watch industry.

“It’s not surprising that almost nobody in this country is talking about the smartwatch,” Mr. Biver said, “because its development is fundamentally opposed to the big Swiss obsession, which is to keep control on Swiss-made production.

“We can’t talk about our craftsmen working by hand,” he said, “and at the same time talk about the electronics of the future, which has nothing to do with our line of business and Switzerland.”

By Raphael Minder
Source: The new York Times