Swatch to integrate NFC into watches rather than launch a dedicated smartwatch

Watchmaker Swatch have announced a plan to put cheap programmable chips in watches that will let wearers make payments with a swipe of the wrist.

Swatch Group will start offering watches with near field communication (NFC) chips within two months, chief executive Nick Hayek said at a news conference on the company’s annual results which were released last month.

Swatch, like other Swiss watchmakers, is reappraising the threat smartwatches pose to its business as the most formidable challenger, Apple, prepares to roll out its much-anticipated entry next month. On Monday, Apple hosted a 90 minute event in San Francisco at which it boasted about Apple Watch’s features and introduced models that blur the line between technology and fashion.

“We are the world champions of integrating smart functions into a watch,” Hayek said. We don’t want to produce a mini mobile phone on your wrist. Others can do that.”

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us. It is opening the market. Especially in the U.S., many people are not wearing watches any more. Somebody is opening this up. Let Apple do the work. It’s fine. It’s good. I congratulate them.”

Both firms strategies could co-exist and succeed, Hayek said, before adding a dig at the bigger rival:

“Upgrading software every year, that’s not our business.”

Swatch has already signed a payments deal with China UnionPay, a bank card association in China, Swatch’s most important market. The company has also struck deals with a Swiss bank and a big credit card company, both of which Mr. Hayek declined to identify.

At the event, Mr. Hayek also displayed a new range of “Swatch Touch” watches that include features like a step-counter.

Mr. Hayek praised Apple’s watch, saying it is the nicest smartwatch he’s seen. Still, he said there was room for both Apple and Swatch watches on the market.

“One doesn’t exclude the other,” he said.