If you own a smartphone, chances are you’ve heard of smartwatches. As part of the next wave of wearables, smartwatches incorporate a variety of energy-efficient, small-footprint processing, wireless and sensing components, which are also essential for many Internet of Things applications. Silicon Labs is a leading supplier of energy-friendly components for wearables and other IoT connected devices. A company that believes in these devices is the 15-person strong company PHTL, which successfully funded the HOT Watch through Kickstarter. We spoke to PHTL’s founder, Shariq Hamid, to understand his vision for the future of smartwatches.
Q: The HOT Watch has been featured in magazines and TV shows like Engadget, Mashable, CNN, CNET and others. Why do you think wearable concepts have grown so popular?
I think this is all about convenience. In just a couple of years smartphones changed the world and how we used our cell phones. Now that pretty much everyone has a smartphone, we are basically always connected. We bring them everywhere and do advanced tasks with them. But the issue is that the smarter and more advanced smart phones get, the screen and physical size also increase. It’s often not possible or desirable to handle smartphones in public, and users also want to protect the screens from getting scratched or broken. This opens up the need for accessories that help you do basic and simpler tasks without exposing the smartphones themselves. With wearables and especially smartwatches sitting conveniently on your wrist, you still have easy access to your smartphone without the need to physically handle it.
Q: In the growing smartwatch market, what are the HOT Watch’s key differentiators?
There are several. It’s the only smart watch that’s available on all major phone platforms. In addition to iPhone and Android support from day one, it will also be available on Windows-based smartphones. The HOT Watch also has a touch screen that enables gesture control. However the most important feature — and this is where the watch got its name HOT, short for “Hands On Talk” — is the patented feature that enables you to simply raise your hand to answer phone calls. This convenient HOT feature is again part of why wearables will succeed. While other smartwatches only buzz or vibrate to give you a notification, the HOT Watch enables you to actually take an action. You can easily answer messages, and the directional speaker at the bottom of the watch makes it possible to answer and make private phone calls by using your palm as the amplifier. As an added bonus, the HOT Watch it is water resistant and can handle five ATM. Being only 8 mm thick and offering a built-in speaker and microphone, the HOT Watch is definitively unique in the smartwatch and wearables market.
Q: Most smart watches rely on the user’s smartphone to be useful. Do you think we will see a wrist-top revolution with more features available in the smartwatch itself, or have we reached the limit of standalone smartwatch capabilities?
There is a caveat here. If you make smartwatches more powerful, you are still limited by the screen size. I think users will still require larger screens. Even if the smartwatch becomes very powerful, you will not be able to do much with the relatively limited screen size available. Would you really reply to an email on a watch face? I don’t think so, and most likely you would limit the reply to a short sentence or some pre-defined messages. I think a lot of people feel naked if they leave your smartphone behind at home. So I think the smartwatch will still be a very useful accessory for smartphone users going forward, and we’ll see further emphasis on the convenience aspect of smartwatches.
Q: Can you share your vision on where you see the smartwatch category going? Will we see more integrated products going forward?
I believe the drivers for new smartwatch features will come from the developer community. The HOT Watch as a hardware platform has features that immediately could be used in health and fitness applications, for example. Once you put this hardware at the fingertips of designers, new and innovative signature features will be available. In the health and fitness space, detailed reporting is the natural next step. So I think we will see many application areas we didn’t think of when the developer community starts working on the hardware.
Q: So to make the HOT Watch more accessible to the public, how important is it to provide a development environment? What kind of possibilities will an open source approach give to developers?
As we have seen from the first attempts at smarter watches many years ago to today’s open source alternatives, it’s apparent that accessibility is important. For smartwatches to be widely adopted, you need to give developers access to the platform. The HOT Watch is a very potent development platform with a distinct Memory-LCD with a touch interface and gesture features, 6-axis accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone and speaker, and a powerful MCU based on an ARM Cortex-M3 processor. With the supporting HOT Watch SDK, developers get two levels of app development. The first level enables developers to design apps that run natively on the smartwatch itself, and second level involves apps running on the user’s smartphone so that the smartwatch can leverage the handset’s resources. For example, playing a Ping-Pong game on the watch requires real-time input, or a health app needs to push data to the smartphone. However, an app that pulls flight schedules and gate information for you could run on your smartphone and then present the data on your smartwatch on demand. So the smartwatch hardware platform and the smartphone resources paired with the SDK will enable more possibilities for designers and spark applications that we haven’t yet thought of.
Q: The HOT Smartwatch includes a Silicon Labs ARM Cortex-M3 EFM32 Giant Gecko microcontroller. How important is the energy-efficient MCU platform choice for a product like the HOT Watch?
When we designed the HOT Watch, performance was the main criteria. The second criteria was the footprint, and then we emphasized very low energy consumption. The combination of these three considerations gave us the ultimate final product, and the EFM32 Giant Gecko MCU helped us reach these goals. We decided to move from an initial 16-bit MCU to the 32-bit EFM32 MCU to meet our performance requirements, and with the Giant Gecko’s large built-in memory, we could reduce the footprint. Finally the EFM32 MCU’s autonomous peripherals helped us meet our low-energy consumption goals.
Q: You mention the low energy consumption in such a small device. Since it is a 32-bit watch, how often do you need to charge the HOT Watch?
The use cases for a watch like the HOT Smartwatch are endless. How often you use the speaker, how long you are in phone mode, how far you are from the smart phone when you use it, and backlight capabilities are all variables that will add to the calculation. Our goal was to meet the user need for convenience, such as the private call feature, while making the smartwatch operate longer than your smartphone. People are used to charging their mobile devices these days, so we think we have reached all these goals. And should your smartphone batteries run out, you will still know what time it is.
Q: The HOT Watch was successfully introduced via a Kickstarter campaign. Do you have some tips to emerging developers who want to do something similar?
You really have to do your homework. Even with the greatest idea, you need to have a prototype and a realistic plan covering all aspects of the design from concept all the way to production. Based on that, Kickstarter can help you in the pre-launch phase to hone your story and give you feedback that might help you turn your idea into a successful launch. With the introduction of the HOT Watch, we had a story to tell, and we made a proper launch. Once your project is live, Kickstarter backers will also help you by suggesting improvements to your products.
Q: If end users want to buy a Hot Watch or if designers want to start developing HOT Watch apps, where do they start?
The natural starting point is our homepage, and the SDK is available for those interested. We still accept pre-orders, and we will start shipping the hardware at the end of this month.
Visit the Hot Watch website: http://hotsmartwatch.com/
Products mentioned in this article
The EFM32 Giant Gecko family is a 32-bit microcontroller portfolio supported by a high performance ARM Cortex-M3 CPU. The whole range has peripherals and features that are autonomous, and you can have up to 1 MB of Flash memory. To start developing your own applications, you can use the EFM32 Giant Gecko starter kit (STK), and you will get some unique power debugging features using Simplicity Studio software that supports all the EFM32 Gecko MCUs.