Simply put, it’s the definitive feature that will make or break wearable technology on its way to becoming a $50 billion industry.
Last week, New York City-based retailer Opening Ceremony and Intel unveiled the latest in an ever-expanding line of wearables to debut this year ahead of Apple’s Watch. The MICA bracelet (which stands for My Intelligent Communication Accessory) looks like what is oft referred to in fashion parlance as a “statement bracelet.” It’s a bangle clad partly in snake skin (a choice of white or black), partly in 18K gold, and studded with three semi-precious stones. Inside the wrist, a curved sapphire glass touch screen provides connectivity via AT&T to text messages, Google and Facebook notifications, and local business recommendations powered by Yelp and TomTom. It will retail for $495 at both Open Ceremony and Barney’s in stores and online.
More stylish than Pebble’s smartwatch (retail $99-$199) and focused on more than fitness (see FitBit or Jawbone), Ayse Ildeniz, vice president and general manager for business development and strategy, New Devices Group at Intel Corporation says that its collaboration “places importance on both aesthetics and functionality,” and that “MICA captures Intel’s philosophy that technology should enhance jewelry in order to make wearable technology truly ‘wantable,’ in addition to seamless and productive.”
It would appear MICA’s design has cracked the code on getting wearables into mainstream consumer hands, but will it really make a difference in the industry?
Opening Ceremony and Intel say that they tapped market research to develop MICA’s design, features and purpose which they say trump having to pull a vibrating phone out of a bag discreetly to check on a notification. This is definitely a plus in meetings or at a restaurant when the alternative –if you are waiting for an important message– is to lay your smartphone out on the table and attempt (or pretend) to keep your eyes on an actual person.
“MICA acts as an extension of a customer’s smartphone, for those times when it’s not convenient to carry [one] with you,” Chris Penrose, senior vice president, Internet of Things Solutions, AT&T said in a statement. What he didn’t say is that the “extension” comes in the form of a two-year wireless service agreement that is included in the purchase price. PC Magazine reports that the bracelet operates independent of the wearer’s smart phone –requiring a whole other telephone number. “That means someone texting you will have to decide whether to send the message to your phone or your Mica, which could get confusing,” PC Mag’s reporter Alex Colon points out.
The device’s so-called “intelligent reminders” such as location-based messages will also ping the wearer when it’s time to leave for a meeting, integrating Google Calendar and Facebook events. The thing is, the phone will already be making a ruckus since it’s probably already programmed to issue notifications for these appointments. How many reminders does it take to get a person to a designated location on time? (If you are one of those people who sets multiple alarms to wake up in the morning, then this combo might be for you.)
Though we’ve gotten quite comfortable with tracking our sleep, fitness, children, pets, and even our employees through the use of wearables, the privacy question goes hand in hand with the rise of the quantified self. Do we really want to wear another device that could make us vulnerable to identity theft by hackers? After all, one of MICA’s selling points is the ability to curate contacts so as to only get notifications from the people who are most important in our lives. The designers attempted to address privacy concerns by building in remote access and locking, as well as the ability to locate the device, and configure capabilities via a Web-based portal.
Even with all these built-ins (or perhaps because of them) MICA’s battery life is estimated to be two days. Pebble, on the other hand, offers a suite of apps and features like music and its battery lasts a week and the entire device is also waterproof. Each gets recharged through a USB cable.
The question then becomes, exactly how many devices (and chargers, batteries, data plans, etc.) do we need to keep track of our daily doings? The answer may be as personal and unique as the user. This is why even fashionistas may not be flocking to purchase a MICA until, at least, it comes in a wider variety of colors and finishes. And if critics of Wil.I.Am’s Puls wearable (please don’t call it a watch, it makes calls and can determine the wearer’s moods) are any indication, the device in question won’t be flying off any shelf any time soon if it doesn’t serve up the right combination of functionality.