We first heard about will.i.am’s foray into the world of smartwatch-esque wearables back in April, but we had… questions. What was that mysterious cuff on his wrist? And could it really do all the things he promised? Today he unveiled the Puls. Welcome to fashionology, people.
Don’t call it a watch: will.i.am says it’s a cuff. “Watches don’t have SIM cards,” says the star, but the Puls can make calls. It texts too. It’s also Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled. You can check Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, get directions, and talk to AneedA, a new competitor for Siri. Oh, and you can top the battery off by wearing a charging jacket, because that’s will.i.am’s kind of crazy.
The big reveal took place at Dreamforce, the big business bacchanal that’s currently commandeering a not-insignificant swath of San Francisco’s SoMa neighbourhood. Before the keynote, I had the chance to sit down for a brief hands-on and a chat with will.i.am about his vision.
My first thought when I saw the Puls was: This thing is chunky. My wrists are not small and when I snapped it on — it opens like claw and is held together with magnets — it still looked large. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing! It’s a bangle alright. But one of the major challenges for wearables is achieving a balance between fashion accessory and tech necessity; not everyone wants to make quite that bold of a statement. Hence that “fashionology” space that the company — i.am+ — invented, and consequently wants to own with more products like these.
Will.i.am says that the Android-driven cuff was his concept all along, but there was a functional upshot; rather than cram all the hardware into a small space behind the curved screen “face” of the wearable, everything — from the battery to speakers the chipset to the sim card — is evenly distributed around the interior of the entire band.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the keyboard pop up. It is impossibly tiny, but did an admirable job of predictive type during the demonstration.
Here’s what will.i.am had to say about his creation.
Fashion and technology are both notoriously fickle industries. Tell me a bit more about this “fashionology” concept, and how you want to unite those two worlds.
Lots of accessories that suggest they should be doing something. Like your earrings that you have on. Amazing earrings. My head says: ‘Wow. Imagine if they were actually headphones.’ Then when you see technology, you think: ‘Wow, that’s awesome. I wish it looked awesome.” That’s because they’re too disciplines that haven’t been disciplined to collaborate. Two worlds so caught up in their awesomeness that they don’t want to collaborate. I sit in the middle. I love fashion — that’s what I went to school for — but I love technology — that’s what I’m telling kids to go to school for. The only place in the world of wearables where people are putting their imagination is the wrist. That’s like saying like everyone in the world only wants to play the congos. Do you know how many other instruments there are?
OK. But Puls is also a wrist wearble. How did you end up there?
Ours doesn’t need a phone for it to function. Why do you want to have a device that doesn’t have a phone? The gym. I’m tired of having the friggin’ music experience tangled with wires, and my device, and I have to figure out where to put my phone. We all know, in a gym, it hasn’t been thought out right. I want to have a device on my wrist where it’s free, and I can work out with my Bluetooth and I’m straight.
The other issue is this: How much power are you gonna have? We have 780 milliamps. How many is in an iPhone? 900? Cool. We’re good then. Eight hours. But I need more. If we have mophie that gives us more. Jackets bro! Jackets. The sleeves touch the watch and give you four days; 4000 milliamps.
And our bags have power and sound. I want it to be loud all the time. Inside is carbon fibre, with conductive charging on the base, so you place this on the matte and this charges it, and it Bluetooths to the device.
And you charge the Puls with USB?
No, the device has a claw, and it charges in less than an hour.
Is there a camera?
With the cuff design, you start pointing at the problems, and then the answers are the products. First off, who in the fuck is going to be putting up their wrist up to take a picture? I don’t want to be hanging out with that guy. Come on bro, let’s just be real. So how do you take a picture? Glasses. Let’s make glasses that take a picture. And people take pictures by tapping their wrist and looking.
So it’s like Google Glass?
Nope. It’s literally just pictures.
So is that the only way to take photos? You’re introducing that today as well?
That’s later. If you want to take pictures, your smartphone is awesome. Let’s not even try to squeeze what you’re doing in a smartphone here.
So: that brings up a question. You can make phone calls, you can text, you would be paying for some kind of plan. Do you anticipate that people will still be bringing their phones around with them?
Yeah. It’s like this. Do you have a laptop?
Do you have a tablet?
I don’t actually.
I spend a lot of time on screens, I didn’t think I needed another one.
So you’re a screenager, just like all of us. Other companies call them millennials. But if they’re millennials, what the hell are we? We’re screenagers. It’s an inclusive demographic. That’s everyone who likes screens. Traditional corporate 101 mentality? They don’t understand popular culture. I understand it. A person who uses a laptop will use a tablet totally different. A person who uses a smartphone will use a Puls totally different. Because it’s where you’ll use it. You’ll use it in the gym, when you’re driving. When you get a phone call at dinner you’re not going through your bag or pockets because your phone’s on vibrate and you didn’t really feel it in the first place. Now vibrate is on your wrist and only your wrist.
So if I have my phone in my back pocket and my Puls on my wrist, am I getting double notifications or are they totally separate?
We have a program we’re working out with AT&T that will answer that question directly.
A lot of people are talking about smartwatches, but way, way less people have actually tried them. You’ve been wearing this for months. You’ve been wearing a Puls for months now. What has stuck out most about the experience?
How quick it is. For example: I’m going for a run. I open up my music stream. [talks aloud to AneedA] A Tribe Called Quest. Buggin’ Out. AneedA, put that in my collection.
Or driving: [Watch will.i.am speech-to-text me while driving a pretend car.]
Do you have a timeline for when people will be able to purchase these?
It will be in the US by Christmas. Australian pricing and availability has not been announced.