In October, watchmaker Citizen struck a licensing deal with Fossil Group for the latter’s hybrid watch technology. Then this week at SXSW, the Japan-based company took the wraps off of its new wrist gizmo — without any of Fossil’s tech in it.
Instead, the company partnered with Veldt, a wearable start-up from its native Japan, to develop Riiiver — a new take on the connected watch that lets everyday users build their own custom watch apps. Sort of.
The three “i” letters stand for “imagine, inspire and innovate,” hinting at the Internet of Things platform behind the gadget.
In reality, the action works a bit like IFTTT.com, an online service that creates automations by connecting devices, apps and other services. For instance, users can set their smart lights to flash every time The Giants win a game, or download social photos into an online gallery whenever friends tag them.
Riiiver works in a similar fashion. But instead of “if this, then that” logic, the Riiiver app lets the user identify the “trigger” (or hardware button on the watch), the “service” (or third-party app) and the “action” (what they want to happen). Once finished, the Citizen mobile app will push the mini apps to the watch.
The example scenarios run the gamut. By mapping one of the three buttons to a specific action or feature in other apps, users could conjure a rideshare for their daily commute home by just tapping the button. Or turn on the air conditioning before arriving home. Or, once in the house, switch a connected lamp on, off or just to a different color. It works in reverse, too. If the Yankees win a game, some of the hands on the dial can move in celebration.
Other possibilities, according to the Japanese brand:
- By pushing one of the watch buttons, the hand display will show the direction to a nearby café
- Through the users’ smartphone, color of room illumination can be changed to the daily weather condition i.e. when it is cloudy, the light will become brighter
- After completing a 10K run, music can be set to automatically change to a post-workout playlist
- Connect your watch and air control at home…on your way home and it is freezing, with just the push of a button on the watch, the air conditioner will recognize your action and will start warming up the house.
To hear Citizen tell it, Riiiver sounds like several things rolled into one. It’s part customizable remote trigger for third-party apps, part customizable notification system and part analog timekeeper, with physical hands on the dial.
Just don’t call it a hybrid.
“No, it’s not a hybrid watch. It’s a full smartwatch,“ said Daisuke Matsuoh, an engineer and system architect with Citizen. “We released an SDK [software development kit]. It’s completely open.” Matsuoh sees it as giving users more control to choose or create their features, rather than having it chosen for them.
In order to do that, there needs to be a range of apps and features to choose from. That’s where the developer community comes in.
The SDK gives app-makers the ability to connect to the Citizen platform, which is a major reason it chose to exhibit at SXSW. It wanted to generate interest from potential partners. The brand also wanted to receive on-the-spot input from potential users.
On that score, the feedback hasn’t been entirely surprising. According to a spokeswoman with the company’s communications agency, the majority of comments asked about health-care features — an area that’s largely seen as the driver of future smartwatch growth. Tech-makers such as Apple see the category as the way forward, and packed features like EKG into its latest Series 4 Apple Watch. Meanwhile Fitbit, which has always had a health and fitness focus, has started experiencing an upswing.
The latter reported 9 percent year-over-year growth in the fourth quarter of 2018 across its fitness trackers, and it aims to keep the momentum going with a bid to draw in the whole family, with kid-friendly and affordable options among its just-announced Fitbit Versa Lite Edition, Fitbit Inspire, Fitbit Inspire HR and Fitbit Ace 2.
When Riiiver launches this fall, it will cost $420, which is a bit more than the usual $250 to $350 range. But Citizen has never shied away from luxury price points, so why start now? Especially if it delivers the customization, automation and other features customers want.
At its booth, the Japanese watch brand fielded ideas, such as remote glucose monitoring and other features that could send patient information to doctors. Or, with its remote trigger functionality, the watch could act as a distress button similar to a Life Alert, but without the geriatric styling. It’s a popular type of feature; Apple Watch introduced fall detection in the latest Series 4 model.
Citizen may be dipping a toe, or an arm, in IoT development, but as a watch company that goes back to 1918, it has had generations of feedback from watch-wearing customers. And if there’s one thing the brand knows, it’s that most smartwatch-makers are getting one fundamental thing wrong — battery life.
The brand has already integrated Eco-Drive solar-powered battery technology in some of its watches. It also has brought it to Riiiver, and here, Eco-Drive practically laughs at the one to two days of typical smartwatch longevity. According to a spokeswoman, five to six hours in sunlight per month should be enough to keep the device humming along.
Battery savings is one reason the company chose an analog dial, since touchscreen displays can be energy hogs. The other is a product and technical design choice.
With a limited set of things those physical hands can do, Citizen is going for elegant — but purposeful — simplicity. It believes that’s something consumers will want to get their arms around.