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Do You Really Need a Smart Watch? Or Just a Smart Watch Back?

Chronos thinks people who love their “dumb” watches will love this smart watch back

2 min read
Do You Really Need a Smart Watch? Or Just a Smart Watch Back?
Photo: Chronos

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.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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