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Canadian teen’s smartwatch idea earns $200,000 on Kickstarter

Simon Tian’s Neptune Smartwatch concept is large, particularly on the wrist, but it has already met its goal for the hardware start-up to produce its first units.

A 19-year-old entrepreneur from Montreal is taking on tech juggernauts Samsung and Sony by trying to launch his own smart watch.

Like many startup companies, Neptune Computer Inc., has turned to an online crowdfunding platform to raise funding for a full launch of its product.

Simon Tian's vision for a better smart watch quickly won over the community at Kickstarter. Tian hit his target of $100,000 in just over 24 hours and was nearing $200,000 Thursday afternoon with 30 more days to raise additional funds.

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He had the idea for his smart watch, called the Neptune Pine, last year and visited factories in China to investigate what he could have built.

"What I learned is that in 2013 it's actually possible for small startup companies like us to develop products as competitive as what the big guys are coming up with, because material costs have been going down for years and they've been made accessible – all the different chips and components – not to only large orders but to small orders as well," said Tian.

"So that's what's really permitting us to develop this product."

The first thing that stands out about the Neptune Pine is its 2.4-inch screen, which he admits looks large on a wrist.

"Obviously the initial reaction will be, 'Oh, it's big for a watch!' but we think a paradigm shift is going to be required in the future."

He decided a big screen was crucial to make a truly useful smart watch that could browse the web, launch Google Android apps and make calls. The watch also takes its own SIM card so it's not dependent on a smartphone for a wireless connection. It can also connect to Wi-Fi networks.

"Right now the biggest issue with smart watches is screen size, the form factor is limiting it from replacing a fully functional smartphone," Tian said.

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"(Current smart watches) are all very good at specific things, like peering with your phone for notifications or tracking fitness data, but there's no one single smart watch that can sort of do it all." (Click here for the video describing the product.)

He believes the future of smart watches lies in using flexible-screen technology, which many companies are working to commercialize.

"It would basically circle around the wrist and when you remove it you would have a three- or four-inch screen that would be entirely large enough for smartphone functionability," said Tian.

He plans to produce at least 2,500 units of his Neptune Pine smart watch by January. A model with 16 gigabytes of storage will sell for $335, while it will be an extra $60 for double the storage.

Tian is following the lead of another young Canadian entrepreneur who found success in wearable technology. Last year, 26-year-old Eric Migicovsky raised more than $10-million on Kickstarter for his Pebble watch, which connects wirelessly to a smartphone to display message notifications and launch apps.

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