Moving off the Wrist - The Path to Invisible Wearables

Product Updates
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May 7, 2017
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John Renaldi

Free the wrist

Chances are you don't think about your wrists all that much during the day, but up until now, wearable companies have been obsessed with them. Startups and established companies alike have tried to make the Dick Tracy watch a reality. While this approach has met some success with techie consumers, it has received less enthusiasm from those of us who aren't going for an Optimus Prime look. The problem is that wrists are highly visible. For most of us, what we wear is a fashion statement and an expression of how we want to present ourselves. And when we present ourselves with a clunky device wrapped around our arm that buzzes and blinks with every alert, it can warrant a few eye-rolls. Many people view wearables as the latest niche gizmo for tech enthusiasts, rather than a tool that makes our lives more convenient and efficient.

One of the most well-know VCs, Kleiner Perkins recently wrote, that “we need to begin to think about these devices not as wearables, but as pervasive devices that are integrated into every facet of our lives.” Shockingly, even one of the first smartwatch companies, Pebble, is starting to rethink the wrist with the announcement of their Pebble Core.

This shift in thinking comes as companies realize that many demographics, and especially the children’s and youth market in which we’re interested (more to come below), simply aren’t used to wearing something on the wrist every day. Quoting the New York Times, there’s a lot of “wearables you won’t want to wear” and many simply end up in your junk drawer.

Technology should be unnoticeable, blending seamlessly into the background, which is why the next generation of wearables will eventually be invisible. When a wearable product is organically woven into daily life, its usefulness will shine. The best wearable is the one that you reach for every day, not an awkward add-on to your wardrobe. Google’s Project Jacquard is just the start of this emerging space.

‍Rachel Kalmar’s datapunk quantified self sensor array (image courtesy Cory Doctorow)

Kids are a great place to start

As recently highlighted by Chicago Inno, our team at Jio is building the next wave of wearables; we’re calling them, “invisibles”. But perhaps what’s more interesting is that we’re starting with children. Our first product, Jiobit, which will open up for pre-orders later this summer, is focused on the children’s market. We’re setting out to solve a big problem I had as a parent; giving my kids some of the freedoms I enjoyed growing up, without losing my mind worrying about them.

As IoT and wearables move beyond the often feared hype cycle, companies that succeed will be those that help solve real meaty problems instead of building another fad gadget (or Levi’s jacket) that ends up at the back of your junk drawer. We’re focusing on children first because we believe this market presents that opportunity. Before worrying about tracking our kids steps, or communicating with them via a smartwatch, we need to get them out of the house. We should be encouraging our kids to be more independent and to experience the freedoms that we had as kids. To do this we need to feel confident that they’re safe -  that’s the solution we’re offering at Jio. We know that parents value their child’s safety above an internet connected light bulb or dismissing a phone call on their sleeve [see chart below]. So if we’re going to move off the wrist, this is a great place to start.

‍Source: Jio commissioned independent children and family technology study (n=588), December 2015

‍Secondly, kids don’t wear watches. And when you try to force them to wear one, you will likely get a reaction much like my kids gave me when I tried! [real image up top] Who can blame them? Current wearables are heavy, bulky and distracting. It can be hard enough to convince your kid to put on real pants in the morning, let alone a clunky “kid-friendly” device that’s twice as big as the Apple Watch. By exploring “invisibles” for kids, we end up solving a real user problem for parents and a form factor issue for the wearer. 

Lastly—and here’s where things get really interesting—this space is ripe for innovation. The current generation of products is basically built in the same way you would build a cell phone... jammed into a watch form factor. Just like your phone, they come with a big battery (hence the size) and the terrible battery life that goes along with it (despite the size). It's a quick and easy way to build a product...but like most quick and easy solutions, it skips out on the strategic thinking required to really move the needle.

Design Innovation

But what if you grabbed a bunch of the best engineers in the industry, and set on a path to solve these problems? You would build something from the ground up, from the system architecture, to the electronics and printed circuit board, to the Cloud, to machine learning...and you would innovate in new ways. You would not think of a wearable product as a phone on your wrist, but as an invisible tool that was dependable, ubiquitous and sensitive to context. It would synchronize with the cloud and operate independently from your smartphone. How might we innovate here to radically change how these products are designed and engineered?

What if it could run on ultra-low power, relieving parents of the burden of having to charge it every day? What if it was so light, you forgot it was there? What if it was so small, it was incognito?

Those are the “what if” questions we asked and now, we have answered them. Keep up with us (subscribe below) on how we’re going to free the wrist, starting with your best and most important investment - your kid.

-John RenaldiCEO & Founder, Jio

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