It’s common wisdom that a watch isn’t just a watch, it’s a fashion statement. That’s why Apple is offering its smart watch with five colors of plastic bands—and in $10,000-plus gold versions. But today’s smart watch is still not going to be as personal a fashion statement as the watch you got as a gift on a special birthday—or handed down from a parent.
Chronos, a startup company that launched this week at the Highway 1 accelerator’s demo day, is betting that a lot of people have special watches—or at least fashionable watches—that they don’t want to replace with something new, but that they would like the functionality of a smart watch. So it has developed a smart watch back with some basic smart watch functions—notifications in the form of vibrations and colored lights, phone and music controls, and movement tracking.
The current version, a slim disk, attaches using what the company calls “micro-suction” to an existing watch back, fitting, says company founder Mark Nichol, 80 percent of watches on the market today. (It didn’t fit mine, but I do wear a very tiny watch). With it hiding between your wrist and the watch, you can tap on the watch face and sides to silence incoming calls or send them to voice mail, control music playing, and perform other functions. You’ll feel alerts as vibrations against your skin, or see them as colored lights shining out from the edges of your watch.
Besides making this add-on disk, the company is also looking to provide watch manufacturers with their technology to build directly into the backs of watches, or to offer as a snap in replacement for a traditional watch back. Nichol says leading watch manufacturers have already expressed interest in that approach.
It makes sense to me—I’m not sure I want all the functionality of a smart watch (particularly since much of it would involve squinting at a tiny screen), but some basic capabilities would be nice. And at minimum, getting the two bands currently on my wrist (dumb watch and fitness tracker) down to one is appealing.
And kudos to the company for a great tagline: “The best wearable is the one you already wear.”
Correction made 4 June.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.