Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MetaWatch : An Open Letter -- The Response

I recently sent an open letter to the makers of Meta Watch, in the hopes of discovering more about the company's future plans for their watches, which are currently available for pre-order, and should start shipping to developers/customers on June 30th.  David Rosales, the Director of Technology at Meta Watch, was kind enough to provide me with a reply.  It is posted below:


Don't feel like an outcast. There are a lot of "dinosaurs" wearing watches. The industry sells well over a billion watches per year (note that I didn't say "devices"). The fashion watch category is at an all time high right at this very moment. What I would agree to instead is that "time" as the primary service a watch provides is not as relevant as the fashion today. Telling time is a convenience, but it's only one clock out of several dozen you have access to throughout the day (think microwave oven, DVD player, computer, phone, bank signs, car dash boards, etc). Most watches today are primarily status symbols (luxury) or accessories (fashion).

Digital watches are a little different. They are a minuscule minority of the luxury and fashion categories. Unlike these other watches, digital watches either have a very specialized functional offering (like sport timers), or they are dirt cheap, or both. Both types use battery and display technology that have not changed very much in 25 years.

We think there is a need for a new kind of watch. One that does not fit into today's watch categories.

First a little background:

I think we can all agree that the computing world has changed, but it's hard to see exactly how profound the changes are since we are right in the middle of it all. Smartphones have been around for 10 years (my first was a Handspring with a mobile phone add-on), but the convergence of real time web, cloud computing, fast packet switched mobile networks, mobile processors, device memory, touch interfaces, an explosion of powerful development frameworks (and developers to go with them) have finally created the right kind of user experience. We are now firmly within a new age of computing. The PC age has ended and we are witnessing the transformation to the mobile computing age. Instead of one computer per person, we now have dozens. In the near future there will be hundreds.

Here are a few axioms I believe are true. I think it will give you some insight into our philosophy for MetaWatch.

  • The computer (connected to a super computer) in our pocket we call a phone will make the personal area network a true reality (another 10+ year old technology finally coming of age).
  • Only a few of those processors we wear/carry we use will actually have displays. For the rest will use whichever interface (screen) is the most convenient for the type of task we want to accomplish.
  • The wrist is the most convenient, technically feasible, and socially acceptable location on the body for a wearable display.
  • Wearable technology will only succeed if it is fully integrated with fashion design. You carry a device, you wear fashion.
  • Great technology adds more value (aka convenience) than attention it takes to use it. It should not overstep it's main purpose.
  • The wristwatch is the worlds greatest glanceable display and the most successful wearable display technology (invented over 100 years ago). The 80/20 of a watch is 80(glance)/20(everything else).
  • The pocket watch did not jump to the wrist until people were pulling it out of their waistcoat dozens of times per day (convenience) AND it became socially acceptable to wear (fashion). The technology was available to have wrist watches for decades prior to both these events...
Now, I'll try to answer your questions to the best of my ability:


What is the platform roadmap? Is this the first watch in a long line of compatible watches, or a one-off watch that is doomed to obscurity?
  • Before I answer, I should give you more context. The MetaWatch platform is a connected watch development system. One of the reasons you do not see many people experiment with connected watch technology at a consumer level is that it is really, really difficult. It requires battery operated, ultra-low power embedded firmware, best of breed hardware, complex PCB design, difficult antenna engineering, industrialization, scalable manufacturing, fashion design and materials, regulatory certifications, embedded Bluetooth, etc. These things are very difficult and expensive to do. By providing a hardware and software platform that addresses these very difficult items, we are trying to foster an explosion of wrist based innovation. There is not one killer app for a connected watch, there are thousands. MetaWatch allows these innovators to build off of a platform instead of reinventing the wheel.
  • Now regarding the roadmap. We absolutely plan to continue to innovate. At this stage it is too early to talk about what we "think" the next iterations should be. Right now, we are concentrating on launching and listening. We do not plan to have only one platform launch in our history.
  • When you say "one-off watch" it makes me think that you have the wrong impression. MetaWatch is not a consumer product. Anyone who wishes to make a one-off product can without investing millions of dollars -- that's part of the whole reason we're doing this. The freedom to create "one-off" or private wearable devices has not been possible until now.
Are you planning on being the only manufacturer of Metawatch capable devices?
  • The short answer is "Yes", and there is very good reason for it. The industrialization and manufacturing is actually one of the bigger barriers for people to get started in wearable technologies. We have created the assembly line, supply chain, quality control, production tooling, regulatory certifications, etc. If you use the MetaWatch platform to create a product, then you do not have to go and create this infrastructure all over again. If you use the MetaWatch platform to create a product, then your order is aggregated with all the other orders for the platform, so you don't need to order tens of thousands of units just to get started. You can start with one and go from there.

Do you plan on making the watch customization and  hardware-hacker friendly?
  • Every time you add something to the hardware, you go back to the full cost and risk of mechanical design, test, industrialization, tooling, certifications, etc. That's cost and risk you should be trying to avoid. The watch is wireless, if there's something you need that's not on a smartphone already, you can add it as a separate device to the wireless network. We are no longer constrained by over-packing everything anyone ever might need in to one box.

What does Metawatch plan to do to encourage its development community?
  • If you ever wanted to add a wearable display to your application, web service, device, or general project, then we mean this to be the best and easiest way for you to get that done. If you want to start a business around your development, you are free and encouraged to do so and you will leverage our manufacturing infrastructure. This is not yet about selling MetaWatches to the consumer, this is about removing the barriers to entry for people to experiment, play, and hack. This is more about fostering innovation. Broad consumer oriented production based on MetaWatch will come, but only when the user experience is of buying and using are right.
I hope that answered your questions well enough and I hope it gave you some additional insight into our thinking and why we are passionate about this. Thanks again for taking the time to reach out.

David Rosales
Director of Technology
Meta Watch (www.MetaWatch.org)
twitter: @davidro