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LG Aims to Strike Tricky Balance With Google Over Watches

The company stresses that it is committed to Android Wear as its primary strategy, even as it debuts its first WebOS-based device.

Ina Fried

With no new announcements at Mobile World Congress, LG spent most of a press conference Sunday trying to explain the thinking behind its first WebOS-based smartwatch, which was detailed last week.

Even as it took question after question about the watch, LG stressed that its primary focus was on its line of Android Wear products, with the WebOS-based LG Watch Urbane LTE being more of an experiment than a mass-market product.

“Android Wear is the primary OS for LG wearable devices,” LG vice president Chris Yie said multiple times during an hourlong press event.

But LG, like Samsung and others, face the challenge that they have virtually no control or customization options with Android Wear. For the Urbane LTE, for example, LG had to go beyond Android Wear in order to support its calling features as well as NFC-based payments. Samsung has used the Tizen operating system for a number of its watches.

“With Android Wear, we cannot satisfy our customers 100 percent,” Yie said, even while once again repeating that Android Wear is its primary smartphone operating system.

The LG Watch Urbane LTE is very similar in appearance to another just-introduced model, the LG Watch Urbane. But while the latter runs Google’s Android Wear software, the Urbane LTE is based on the WebOS code that LG acquired some years back from Hewlett-Packard. The Urbane LTE also works without needing to attach to a phone, but that also means that it requires a separate phone number and service contract.

LG isn’t yet saying how much it will cost, but it will certainly be pricey. The company also declined to say if it plans to allow others to write apps for the WebOS-based operating system, though it does refer to it as the “LG Wearables Platform.” Until now, LG has used WebOS only within its television division.

So far only one wireless operator has committed to sell the Urbane LTE — Korea’s No. 3 carrier and itself an affiliate of LG Group. It should arrive there in a couple months.

LG says it is willing to sell the device elsewhere if carriers are interested, but executives said they aren’t pushing all that hard.

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