The concept “connected” watches from Fossil

Fossil's concept watches

Fossil's concept watches (next to a Nexus S phone)

Fossil's concept watches

Fossil makes watches (amongst other things) and is one of the world’s highest-selling watch companies (they make watches under a variety of brands). You might even have one of them on your wrists. But there’s a small team who are trying to rethink what a watch is and could be.

There have been other attempts at wearable computers. I remember my dad always loved wearing a Casio calculator watch (popular amongst Silicon Valley engineers). While I worked at Microsoft they introduced the SPOT watches, that ultimately didn’t do well in the marketplace.

Vice President of Watch Technology, Bill Geiser, explained to me that they learned from earlier tries to put geeky technology into watches. He pulled out of his bag several other attempts, done by other companies. They all had easily-seen flaws. The earlier SPOT technology, which Bill worked on, had flaws that they are learning from. It was too thick, didn’t look like a great watch, the battery didn’t last long enough, and it wasn’t useful enough or flexible enough for developers to really do something interesting.

In this second visit to my house to show me what they are working on, he pulled a couple of watches out of his bag and showed them to me. They hook up to Android and RIM phones, via BlueTooth.

Listen to the audio interview I recorded with Bill and David Rosales, director of watch technology. In the recording you’ll hear more about what they are trying to do with these watches and why they are showing them around Silicon Valley months before they will turn into real products: they want developers to think about how they would use them and get in touch (leave a comment here and they’ll see it). Leave a good idea and they might even drop by your house and give you one of these concept watches.

Talk about constraints, though. You only have a few pixels to display information. A Tweet is even too long (you can display it, but you’ll have to scroll it, or have multiple screens).

Today’s rain in Half Moon Bay, though, reminded me why watches are interesting devices. I wouldn’t dare bring out my iPhone in a downpour. Or, on a ski lift with gloves on (I might drop it, which would make the trip really suck because it costs $600 to replace it). But, a watch could display important information, like my wife is calling, or give me a sense of the kinds of emails that are hitting my inbox. Calendar info. Weather info. Etc etc could be displayed.

The watches themselves, Bill told me in the interview, will cost “around $200.” I’m looking forward to getting mine. In the meantime it’s fun to dream about what could be displayed from my new Nexus S phone.

Are you interested in wearable connected devices like these? Why or why not?

Fossil's concept watches

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

40 thoughts on “The concept “connected” watches from Fossil

  1. Wearable connected devices like this are amazing! Why wear a watch that only shows you the date and time when you could quickly glance down at your hand to check for email counts, the weather, new text messages, tweets at you, and other “widget” data?

    Some commenters bring up products like the Sony Ericsson LiveView into the discussion but honestly, why would you want to wear a full color display on your wrist when you could just pull out your phone for a better experience? The battery life also takes a hit and I would hate staring at a backlit display just to see if I have any new emails.

    This small, pixel lacking watch is perfect for just quickly checking some often accessed text based content. You won’t want to read anything more than a couple of words but small indicator numbers wouldn’t hurt. The font size in the picture does seem a little small but I’m sure something could be reconfigured to allow full screen notifications for things like calls. If Bluetooth is built in, you could use it to check who is calling you (a name or phone number should display fine) and then push a button on your headset to accept the call.

    Another commenter has pointed out the addition of media controls. I don’t see how this can’t be done given Apple’s little headphone module that let’s you control the volume, play/pause, and previous/next track using gestures. The simple addition of these controls would make the watch a whole lot more useful and appealing to users, which brings up another point. Letting users customize the thing. One given set of controls just won’t do for everyone. Some people want to use it for work purposes while others for media. A phone app that let’s you fine tune each aspect of the watch would be of huge benefit.

    Last of all, manufacturing costs need to be pushed down and the final product needs to be simple. Overcomplicating setup and functionality were the things that killed the SE LiveView. The product would also have to be just as durable and around the same size as a normal watch for more people to adopt.

    Given the opportunity, I would love to give the prototype a spin. I do live in the Silicon Valley and write for t3chh3p.com.

  2. You can get media control, RSS feeds, incoming emails etc etc from the Fossil made SonyEricsson MBW-150 through third party software here http://www.smartmadsoft.com/

    There are versions of the program working with all platforms except Symbian and iPhone. The Android version is called open watch.

    As you’ve got android you could alternatively use the SonyEricsson LiveView although it does have issues with the BT connection.

    1. Very cool….the digital watch with the highly reflective display is a great fit for this app. This watch was created specifically for outdoor scenarios where rain & direct sunlight are environmental factors that impact usability.

      DM me @billg

  3. Well, having a watch as a phone is not bad. It has lesser tendency of getting lost because it’s always on your wrist and you don’t have to take a bag just to make a room for a cellphone. It is convenient after all. But about the screen wouldn’t it be too small?

  4. There was a time, that I remember, when people where crazy about the calculator watch from Casio and Train watch from unknown company. Calculator is fine on a watch, but when it comes to a whole computer on a watch, then I think it will not be perfect as watches are small… What do you think?
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    1. Remember, there is a difference between “bluetooth watch” and fully-fledged “watch phone” or “watch computer”. Bluetooth watch is just like an external display to your smartphone (which still stays in your pocket or handbag). Because the only functionality on watch is display and BT interface, it could be made very lightweight – with all powerful processing done on the phone.
      I’ve just got me a Sony Erricson MBW-200 and I love it – it’s so much easier to see if you got important messages just by flick of your wrist, no need to dig phone out of pocket. Media Control with displayed track captions are very cool too, especially now in the winter when its even more cumbersome to fish phone out.
      About SE LiveView – it may appear looking good, but it was badly executed. Watch must have some kind of passive display which is on all the time (like backlight-less LCD or analog). LiveView lacks this, you need to wake up to see anything. Also battery life of it is very bad, especially when you compare with BT watches like SE MBW.
      I am very excited about these Fossil concepts, because I trust Fossil as watchmaker to execute ergonomics/design parts top mark. Hopefully they will go in the full production soon!

  5. i love the idea, but it needs to be a watch first and foremost, it needs to be a glance-able machine where it just displays information not necessarily an interactive device. thats what our phone is for! however using as a device to gather information would be helpful as well throw in its own GPS that can tell your phone’s gps its location can dramatically improve accuracy. throw in moisture sensors, a barometer, it would be ultimate. i read an article in popsci once about sensors that the government wants to put in phones (because everyone (non-literal) has one) that read for toxic chemicals in the air such as chlorine and then alert authority about the leak. you could incorporate other power demanding sensors that were originally seen as impractical for phones and just send the info via bluethooth

    could you imagine your watch being a secret spy to gather any and all information about you and your surroundings and give it to you later when you want or need it. i can.

  6. is this makes me look sexier than I already am then I’ll buy it. Although it’s really weird they didn’t target iOS too. Technical limitation? I own a couple of Fossil watches, even though my phone tells the time just fine (and better, because it’s always correct and knows about daylight saving) I still like wearing them because they’re great mens jewelry :)

  7. And there is the increasing availability of charging pad. Place one of those on your desk or night stand, and just drop you phone, watch and such there for the night…

  8. Yeah so many things charge at night, charging a watch nightly wouldn’t be a deal breaker at all for me.

  9. Motion-based heuristics for power savings and/or display illumination is a great idea. BTW, both Fossil concept watches (analog/digital and digital) have 3-axis accelerometers & ambient light sensors….so, what you suggest is possible.

  10. I would love to see a “number server”. A server that fetches popular numbers from the Web and delivers them to the phone+watch. The numbers could be stock quotes, real time sports scores, etc.
    Better yet, users could define their own “numbers”. For instance, this site webmeister wanted to know how many comments in this post, it would only have to give the URL and tell the server where the number is (in this case “Showing 23 comments”). The server would contact the URL each N minutes and send the new number, if something changes.

  11. The Sony Ericsson LiveView does this today, and for only $70. It has its issues (drops the BT connection every once in a while), but at least it has a much nicer-looking UI than these (it uses four-way capacitive touch buttons on a color screen)

    The LiveView even has a plug-in architecture so you can write your own “apps” for it. Pretty neat stuff.

  12. I had a spot watch and liked it, but couldn’t wear it for more than an hour or two because of the bulk.
    I think that the key thing I liked about the spot watch was that it wasn’t a phone companion – i.e. it worked everywhere and didn’t need my phone to be within 30 feet of me. If we just make these phone companions, the only people to benefit are those who, say are in a meeting, and need to subtly check their e-mail, or maybe someone who works in a small office space and leaves their phone on a dock on their desk.

    But if I were to go with the concept, I’d love it if they built an API stack for each phone to communicate with the watch. i.e. As a developer, I don’t want to develop specifically for a watch, but if I had a simple API, I could include a call to send notifications to the watch as well as to the phone’s display.

    Another cool potential feature – if I get an incoming call notification and need to walk to my phone located on the desk, or I need to walk out of a meeting to take the call, I should be able to press a button to prevent the call from going to voicemail for an extra ring or two until I can pick up.

  13. Programmability would be key. I’d like to see an app on the Android side that lets you configure the watch display with plugins or with information exposed in other ways, effectively making the watch a display device with a few controls. Being able to page through different displays of information (and/or different layouts using the programmability concept just described) would greatly magnify the value of this device.

    Media controls are the obvious (but fantastic) BT connection option here. Gotta be full AVRCP 1.4. Sure it’s a limited display area, but if you’ve ever seen one of those USB thumb-drive MP3 players (like the one branded by Swiss Army a few years ago) it can be done.

    It would be great to somehow view unread mail counts covering multiple accounts. I run four business accounts plus two personal accounts, if somebody is looking for a real minimalistic-UI challenge!

    I use countdown timers on my phone quite a lot, for all sorts of things. I often cook all day (while working at home); or doing laundry and I don’t want to forget to unload the washer; or leading up to an important call or having to leave for a meeting; etc. A little progress bar for one of those would be handy for me and would only eat a 1- or 2-pixel-high line across the top or bottom of the screen.

    A cell/Wifi signal indicator would be handy right there on the watch. Or at least an alert when the phone has no signal.

    A vibrate function in the watch would be quite handy. Turn off the phone’s audio ringers completely, you definitely won’t miss a buzz on your wrist. Maybe patterns to differentiate between phone calls, SMS, mail, whatever. I know vibe uses a lot of battery power, but I would think having it tightly strapped to your wrist, it wouldn’t take the kind of juice required to vibrate through jeans pockets or on your belt or the other vibration “transmission” problems phones face.

    It would be very cool to be able to tab to a GPS readout — speed, heading, maybe even tap a button to tag a location, which you could tag with a description later using the phone through one of the many existing apps…

    As for the design — black LCD pixels on a silver-gray background is old-fashioned looking by today’s standards. Even some sort of colorized tinting would go a long way. But that’s a very small complaint, I feel the utility of this concept would far outweigh such concerns.

    Yeah, I’m very into this idea…

    1. The LiveView I mentioned in my other post is what you want. It’s a bluetooth watch that connects with Android and has an API so you can push custom notifications from your phone or run a custom UI on it.
      It has media controls, email/SMS reading, it vibrates for incoming notifications, etc etc. There’s also a free app on the market that works together with an Android fitness (jogging/cycling) app for time/distance/GPS readouts.
      The LiveView screen is OLED, so black background with white text.

      1. I appreciate the feedback, and the I agree the OLED is really nice — but you couldn’t *give* me a Sony product…

    2. We agree – programmability is key. By my count you listed at least 5 great watch applications in your post. Add these to the many other great suggestions listed in other comments and you can see the problem: there’s not one ‘killer app’ for a connected watch….there are hundreds; many thousands.

      Rather than guess which watch apps are most popular we think a better place to start this connected watch journey is to partner with developers. Developers not only see problems more clearly than we do; they also have the wherewithal to address them.Our job then is to deliver a great looking watch that makes it simple for developers to connect it to a phone, apps on the phone, web services, or a combination of all.

      Regarding the display on the digital….it’s a bit hard to show via a photo but it looks considerable different from a traditional black-on-gray LCD. The display combines a highly reflective silver background with a milky white offset. We picked it specifically because of its highly unusual aesthetic qualities. Equally important, the more direct sunlight….the easier it becomes to read….and, because of its low power consumption the display is ‘on’ 24 x 7.

      1. Well Bill, I’m a software developer with more than 30 years experience, I’m senior architect at a major financial institution, and I went with Android because I liked what I saw from the dev side. I wouldn’t complain if I had to update my SDK because FedEx dropped a Fossil on my porch…

  14. I’ve been sporting my Nano watch for a while now. It makes a pretty good watch. I’d definitely love the display to stay on, even if not backlit, so a tap would just activate the backlight. Charging nightly isn’t a big deal since I charge my phone, my iPad and my Kindle nightly.

    The biggest flaws in the Nano watch to me, are:

    More face options. why not a crhono or digital face?
    Apps of some sort. Or bluetooth to connect to my phone, etc.
    Obviously the Nano as a watch was a secondary use case, but I hope Apple (and others like Fossil) realize that at this point these devices aren’t watches. They’re small wrist bound computers. Not too over geek out, but if there was a wrist strap and the OS supported landscape, I’d just strap my iPhone on and call it a day. I want as much computing power as possible on my wrist (unless I’m wearing my Hamilton, then I just want a dead sexy time piece, LOL)

  15. Nice watches, I like the steel body and the six buttons.

    Currently I have a Texas Instruments ez430 Chronos experimental watch. It costs a mere 49$ and it’s the ultimately haclable watch. It comes with a screw and connectors so you can hack the chip and lets say put it on a electrical car model, control your powerpoint with it and much, much more.

    I believe a smart watch is not defined by its connection with twitter, it would need to show me the altitude, the temp (both around my wrist and the actual temp) plus I should also be able to hook pulse monitor and speedometer, use it to control my music on preferably any device (android, iphone) Ultimately it will be a mix between the Chronos watch and the SE LiveView.

    Again, I like the Fossils and your pic, nice boque :)

  16. I’ve got a Sony Ericsson MBW-150 Classic (http://www.sonyericsson.com/cws/products/accessories/overview/mbw-150classicedition) and I love it. I picked it up on a whim, but I’m totally connected to it now. The key word is “glanceable”: getting my phone out of my pocket to check who that text/email was from is not really kosher in a meeting, but I can glance at my watch and see whether it’s urgent or not.

    The best thing about the MBW-150 is that it’s a good watch, first and foremost. The LiveView and Nano look great, but without the ability to look down and see the time without having to press a button, they’re essentially useless to me.

  17. Hi Robert,
    Building watches is like developing apps for microsoft,being Nokia or advertising in the newspaper… don’t you think? Sure it’s cool and shiny, but if you get one, you won’t be wearing it for more than a week or two!
    Best,
    Steve

  18. i Love watches, own like 5 different watches from TokyoFlash funky time piece to my favorite watches automatics. Love the engineering that goes into automatic watches & as you get older time becomes more important.. Now these watches are really interesting and a good idea with connected devices.
    Would love one of these with a Eink display to save battery life as theres such a problem with power.

    In my opinion every watch maker will go down this route to reinvent, reboot the classic watch and I cant wait to try one of these out.

    Great one scoble.

  19. This is taking a similar approach to Sony Ericsson with the LiveView – but hopefully with better results.

    Ideally there would be some kind of developer mechanism for adding the ability to update the watch with plugins. It looks like the ideal data to display would be counts of items (like the unread counts etc.) and maybe for notifications, the type of message and who it was from (e.g. You have a new direct message from scobleizer).

    Would love to have a go on one of these :-)

  20. huh? you’re most certainly wrong here… world’s largest watch producer is probably one of citizen, casio or swatch – definitely not fossil.

    1. You’re probably right. But Fossil makes watches for a wide variety of brands and is pretty damn big too. I’ll remove that unless I can find some facts to back it up.

  21. I’m in a downpour and can’t pull my phone out of my pocket. Ah, Maryam is calling. Too bad I still can’t pull my phone out of my pocket.

    I’m in a downpour and can’t pull my phone out of my pocket. I wonder what the current weather is like?

    I think these are a solution in search of a problem.

      1. I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. Are you comparing the value of the Xbox and a “connected” watch on the basis of utility? Are you stating that these watches are “stupid?”

        1. I’d say the comparison works. Both are “useless” in general terms, and Scoble is right, we do buy lots of useless things LOL.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with pulling your phone out of your pocket. The problem arises when you start doing so hundreds of times each day. It’s at this point where convenience becomes a factor; particularly for people receiving important, time-sensitive alerts which can be easy to miss when your phone is buried in your pocket.

      Some people are there already, some people will get there soon. That’s the market.

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