New approaches to smartwatches are on the horizon, and now another one has landed.
As the tech sector ponders the meaning of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit — and how it squares with the giant’s acquisition of Fossil’s hybrid watch technology — another player has quietly brought a new platform to the U.S. market.
On Friday, Japan-based Veldt launched its latest premium watch, the new Luxture Aarde. The device line, which costs $650 to $750, is carried through b8ta, both online and through its select brick-and-mortar locations in New York’s Hudson Yards, as well as California’s Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Santa Monica shops.
Unlike the numerous array of smartwatch startups, Veldt boasts a unique design and tech pedigree. Not only has it won several awards — including the 2015 Museum Selection Award by Japan Industrial Designers and 2016 Grand Prize Nikkei Trendy Startup Product Awards in the Fashion Category — but the seven-year-old company is also a key partner for watch giant Citizen in Japan.
Veldt created Citizen’s Riiiver technology, an “Internet of Things” platform for wearable devices. “Citizen actually didn’t have the technology system development functionality,” Jin Nonogami, Veldt’s chief executive officer, told WWD. “Our company designed the system and also concept of the Riiiver platform for Citizen.”
Now it’s bringing the tech to the American market … apparently ahead of even the watch giant itself.
The result are hybrid-looking watches with features that even full-fledged touchscreen devices might envy, including the ability to create highly customized functions that go further than today’s standard smartwatch.
Hybrid watches are essentially analog devices — with physical hands — that connect to smartphones for features like app notifications and other alerts. The lack of touchscreen display drastically simplifies things. With no screen, the aesthetics are classic and the battery life is usually better. But functionality tends to be very limited without a digital watchface.
Riiiver devices simply don’t accept that.
With, say, Apple or Wear OS smartwatches, features are dictated by the hardware maker or third-party app developers, with some limited customizations. Riiiver lets users mix and match features to create something new, something akin to mini apps. One app’s alert could set another app to perform a function.
While there are other services that can connect dots like this, they don’t usually come in watch form.
Citizen showcased the platform at South by Southwest in Austin, Tex. in March, and then announced that its new Riiiver-powered Eco-Drive watches will come to the U.S. this fall. Its website still shows a sign-up list to be notified when it arrives.
In the meantime, Veldt hit the American market with its own Luxture Aarde, which appears to be the first non-Citizen brand to feature the tech.
As a watch, Veldt describes it as “luxury-style,” and indeed, it looks well-made. The build quality seems solid, although the bezels are a bit larger than what most American smartwatch owners may be used to. That width hides a loop of 24 lights called the Veldt Flare, which is embedded under the analog dial. The lights are programmable by the user, and the colors can indicate different types of alerts.
Like all modern smartwatches, it will connect to alerts from Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, emails, calls and calendars — plus a customizable setting that focuses on communications from five VIP contacts.
Another distinction: Luxture Aarde’s attention to wellness and sustainability. The strap styles come in “birch” or “stone” and they’re made of sustainable material, such as chaochouc natural rubber, shale and birchwood. The concept: Looking at the wrist shouldn’t stress people out, but inspire feelings of calm and peace.
Nonogami summed it up in his company’s official announcement: “As a society, we’re becoming more aware of our ever-present reliance on technology. People are looking for life-tech rebalance. We want the benefits of information delivered in real time, but current smartwatches deliver too much information with the effect of being intrusive. We feel chained to the data and overwhelmed.”
He’s not wrong. If Luxture Aarde can provide “just the right amount of information” at the right time and according to what users actually want in the moment, instead of flooding their arms with myriad vibrations, noises, pop-up alerts and more, then he — and the platform he created — could be on to something.
Of course, the watch also covers the usual bases, such as tracking steps and fitness, as well as things like UV exposure. There’s even a “climate action reminder,” which takes known data on climate changes over the past decade and expresses it as different colors on the watch. The goal is to boost awareness.
“We would like to remind people to take action for each moment, to [make] better choices due to the global warming,” said Nonogami. His company seems to have a heady mix of good intentions, blended with a new wearables concept and a unique design sensibility.
The early traction might be meaningful in a market waiting to see whatever Google has up its sleeve — which, according to Fossil, looks like another powerful variation on hybrid watches. Where Fitbit’s tech fits in isn’t immediately clear.
All that’s really known right now is that someone has beat it to the punch.