ZTE plans a smart watch that only works with its own phones. That’s not smart.

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As it chases rival Chinese handset makers Huawei and Lenovo for a spot in the top five, ZTE is planning its own smart watch. The watch is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2014 in China with availability in the second quarter, according to a Monday report from the Wall Street Journal. The watch will have similar features to Samsung’s Galaxy Gear but be lower priced.

Galaxy Gear update

Like many previous smart watches, this new model will only be compatible with ZTE handsets, although the company may consider opening up support for other branded phones. I think this is a mistake, one that Samsung and others have made in the past. I understand the idea: If you can create compelling accessories for your line of handsets, you may sell more phones. I’m not sure reality matches up with that expectation, however.

For starters, most smart watches of today do the same basic functions: They act as second screens for data and apps on a connected phone. There are some exceptions where the watches can gather data and provide information when away from a phone — think of exercise tracking with built-in sensors, for example — and then sync that data back to a phone later. But the bulk of smart watch features are generally the same.

Without major differentiation in the smart watches models then, how can one push a consumer to buy a certain brand of phone? The better approach may be less in device-centric and more in platform-centric design.

I still actively wear a smart watch that’s two years old. It works independently of my phone because it has GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios. And it can work with my phone as well for basic notifications. It’s a Motorola MotoACTV¬†and I actually didn’t buy it when it first launched for one simple reason: It only worked with Motorola phones. As nice as I thought the watch was, it couldn’t compel me to buy a Motorola handset.

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It was only after Motorola decided to support all Android phones with the MotoACTV that I bought one. And I’ve used it with at least six different phones since then.

ZTE and others should take note: Unless you can clearly demonstrate a large amount of value in your smart watch accessory that could make people buy your phones, you’re better off making a good accessory for a mobile device platform, not a mobile device.

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