Wearable tech is plummeting down the gender gap. For every man who finds Google Glass too nerdy to wear in public, or the Galaxy Gear not quite his style, there’s exponentially more women who wouldn’t be caught dead in today’s smartglasses and smartwatches.
But Deepa Sood says she has answer. It’s called the CuffLinc, and it provides simple notifications and security alerts via — imagine this — affordable jewellery that many women may actually want to wear. Look at the photos. This isn’t consumer electronics hardware. It’s a scorched-earth response to the overwhelming dude-ification of wearable tech.
“I went to CES for the first time this year, and what I saw was an unmitigated disaster,” Sood says. “Everybody is talking about the wearables opportunity, but nobody is doing it well. Did you see the Wrist Revolution area? Nothing there looks like Cuff.”
Simple notifications and security alerts
Available for pre-order Tuesday on Cuff.io, Cuff is a modular system that includes 18 pieces of ostensibly non-techy jewellery, ranging from a keychain to pendants to leather and metal bracelets. You’d never know any of the pieces are attempting to redefine the wearables space, because Cuff’s smart component, the CuffLinc module, is nondescript and usually hidden from view.
The system is focused entirely on quick, two-way communication between women and the important people in their lives. The CuffLinc, which can be inserted in any of the jewellery pieces for multiple accessory options, pairs with smartphones over Bluetooth and includes a vibrating motor for haptic notifications.
If you’re wearing one of Sood’s pieces (she designed all of them herself), you’ll feel a buzz whenever someone in your Cuff network is trying to contact you. This isn’t a phone notification, but rather an alert sent from the Cuff mobile app, which you can seed with people who need to reach you 24/7. “Say my phone is somewhere in my bag. It’s ringing and ringing, and my babysitter really needs to get me. I’ve programmed her to break through to me. It will vibrate on my wrist, and I’ll know to check my phone,” Sood says.
You can also use CuffLinc to send alerts to people in your network. Let’s say you’re in immediate stranger danger or have had a serious car accident in the middle of nowhere. You can give your jewellery a long, extended press, and people in your Cuff network will receive an SOS that includes your phone’s GPS location, and whatever information you’ve programmed in for worst-case scenarios. This can include “insurance and allergy information, blood type, the kind of things you would need in case of an actual emergency,” Sood says.
If you’re not in immediate peril, and just need to send a quick message without fumbling for your phone, you can use five different pre-programmed Cuff presses. For example, two quick presses could signal to your husband that you’re on your way home. Or three quick presses could send a message to your daughter’s Cuff app: “I’m trying to reach you. Pick up your phone.”
The CuffLinc runs off a coin battery that’s good for a year of use, and also includes an accelerometer, but that sensor will remain dormant when the jewellery begins shipping to customers this [northern hemisphere] autumn. “There’s a lot of fatigue around the fitness space in wearables, and we didn’t want to look like a copycat,” Sood says.
‘I would totally wear this’
Sood visited TechHive’s offices last week to show off the jewellery, but didn’t bring a working CuffLinc prototype, and couldn’t demo a smartphone app. Everything I’ve seen so far looks like a system that answers a critical wearable-tech problem — clunky aesthetics designed by nerds for nerds — but it’s unclear just how the Cuff technology will play out in real-world situations.
Take, for example, the possibility of false alarms. What happens if you press the face of your pendant by mistake? “Obviously, there are going to be false alarms,” Sood says, “but you can turn it off in your phone, if, say, your kids are playing with it. And you get feedback. It vibrates to let you know your message has gone through, and you can always go into your phone to disarm that alert.”
There’s also a small cost-of-ownership problem. The coin battery isn’t user replaceable, so once it dies after about a year, jewellery owners will need to buy a new CuffLinc module for US$25.
Still, if nothing else, I have to admire Sood’s ambition to upend the wearables competition, which has written off a broad swath of women with butch designs. Sood quit her job as a vice president of product development at Restoration Hardware to launch Cuff with her husband and co-founder Sandeep, who runs the app consultancy company Monsoon. And now, with more than US$400,000 in investment from Tandem Capital, Sood is lining up retail partners, and launching a platform for other jewellery manufacturers to license the CuffLinc technology.
While two women in the TechHive office blurted out “I would totally wear this” when checking out the jewellery, Sood concedes not every woman will dig her aesthetic and that working with other jewellery designers will help improve Cuff’s appeal across age groups, and a wide range of personal tastes.
Indeed, while a 15-year-old teen in Portland may like Sood’s leather bands, a 65-year-old grandma in Salt Lake City may want something more traditional. And because the CuffLinc can be ported from piece to piece, women can remake their wearable-tech style to accessorise whatever outfit they’re wearing that day. Currently, Sood’s jewellery designs hit three price points: US$35, US$65 and US$125. There are 18 pieces in total (nine different items, each in two different finishes), and each piece includes a CuffLinc to get you started.
Even if Sood’s aesthetics resonate with customers, Cuff will still have to prove that we need more than just notebooks, tablets and smartphones in our lives. But at least by focusing Cuff’s feature set on personal security — an angle that’s been completely ignored by the rest of the modern wearables market — Sood is giving her product a fighting chance for relevancy.
“What industry needs a facelift more than personal protection?” Sood asks. “You have rape whistles and mace and things that are jokey — ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.’ So why can’t we make security a bit more palatable, and let our ageing parents explore security with a bit more dignity? You wear these weird devices, and you look like you’re just waiting to die.”
by Jon Phillips, TechHive