Your regular host Adam Lashinsky is out this week. Erin Griffith is a writer at Fortune.
For the last year, the Apple Watch was the barometer from which we measure the success of the much-hyped wearable tech category. Even though Apple’s first wearable device is, by most measures, the “king of smartwatch sales,” many view it as a disappointment because it failed to live up to the hype. The smartwatch is not (yet) the next smartphone, therefore, it is a complete failure.
That pall of failure cast a shadow on the entire wearable tech category. Fitbit stock is down by more than 50% this year. Pebble Watch, the Kickstarter-fueled first-mover in smartwatches, last week laid off 25% of its staff, casting more doubts about the size of the market. Cuff, a smart bracelet startup that raised $5 million last year, quietly shut down.
Why aren’t we all wearing computers on our wrists? One hypothesis is the screen problem. We already have enough screens bombarding us with notifications that it’s become a source of stress. So we’re less inclined to attach one to our bodies.
Saving people from screen fatigue has been the guiding idea behind Ringly, a smart ring startup that today launched its latest product, a smart bracelet called Aries. Ringly users can choose which kinds of alerts they want to receive a custom vibration for, and which they’d like to ignore. A text from a loved one or a vibration that your Uber is arriving might take precedence over, say, the 1000th J. Crew offer landing in your email inbox.
“This is a way to control the information we get,” says Christina Mercando, founder and CEO of the New York-based startup. Mercando is betting people will crave new ways to get information without a screen. She points to Amazon’s home-based virtual assistant unit, Echo, which reads the weather, plays music, and recites cooking instructions on demand, as another example of this trend.
Beyond more control and less screen time, Ringly is betting on the women’s accessories market. Apple may have made a mistake by equating smartwatches to smartphones, an essential category where everyone buys just one and upgrades it every few years. Ringly, on the other hand, equates its products to jewelry, an optional category where women want a variety of styles and spend money refreshing their collection every season. With just $7 million in venture backing and “tens of thousands” sold, Ringly remains a small player in the wearable tech category. But the company’s approach makes it worth paying close attention to.
This essay is part of Griffith’s ongoing series about startups, “A Boom with a View.”
BITS AND BYTES
FBI cracks iPhone, stirs up new controversy. Security specialists hired by the Justice Department have managed to retrieve data from an iPhone linked to one of the San Bernardino shooting suspects. As a result, the agency has dropped its courtroom quest to force Apple to help with special software to get around its iOS encryption. Two questions that remain unanswered: how hard was it to circumvent Apple’s protection and can the government apply the same technique to other pending cases? (New York Times, Fortune)
Foxconn reduces Sharp offer. The Taiwanese contract manufacturer was ready to pay almost $6 billion for the struggling Japanese display company. Then it learned more about the extent of its debt, and the deal screeched to a halt in late February. Boards from both companies will meet this week to consider a revised offer that could be $2 billion lower, reports The Wall Street Journal. (Wall Street Journal)
Yahoo to potential buyers: Name your price. Organizations serious about buying the Internet company or its stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan have until April 11 to declare what they want and how much they will pay, reports The Wall Street Journal. Yahoo wants to narrow the field and speed up the process, with the hope of reaching a deal before its annual shareholder meeting in June or July, according to the report. (Wall Street Journal)
Oracle wants Google to cough up $9.3 billion. The two tech giants went to court six years ago over Java software copyrights. A new trial starts in May. According to updated court documents, Oracle wants $8.8 billion for profits earned by Google for using Java in its Android mobile operating system without permission and another $475 million for damages, reports IDG News Service. Google’s previous appeals, including one to the Supreme Court, fell flat. (IDG News Service, Fortune)
Uber CEO expects Chinese profit within two years. Right now, the ride-sharing service is “investing” $1 billion annually to grow its presence in the heavily contested market, CEO Travis Kalanick told CNBC at a conference. That spending helped Uber expand its share in China to almost 30% in the past year, he estimated. Certain cities should profitable within the “next couple of years,” Kalanick said. (CNBC, Fortune)
Tech IPOs dry up. There were only 11 initial public offerings in the first quarter—none of them representing the information technology sector. No one wants to go first, including Uber, which would make a huge splash with its $62.5 billion private valuation. (Fortune)
Pandora’s founder is back as CEO. Tim Westergren is replacing Brian McAndrew, who left after just two-and-a-half years for undisclosed reasons. The streaming music service founded by former musician Westergren, who was CEO from 2002 to 2004, is struggling amid competition from the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. It lost $170 million in 2015, even though it has 250 million registered users. Reports last month suggest it may be for sale. (Fortune, Re/code)
Facebook users may be able to shop through Messenger. Retailers like Everlane and Zulily already use the social network’s messaging service as a customer service channel. Now, the technology is being adapted to facilitate e-commerce transactions, reports The Information (subscription required). The app could offer another forum for Facebook’s advertising services. (The Information, Fortune)
Co-founder of AOL forecasts future of tech. In the annals of American cultural history, few CEOs have played as pivotal a role as Steve Case. Head of the upstart company America Online in the 1990s, Case helped popularize the Internet for the average American household. He packaged free-trial CDs with steaks and made “You’ve got mail” an iconic tagline. He also, it has to be noted, brokered one of the most disastrous corporate mergers in history, between AOL and media giant Time Warner. In his new book,The Third Wave, Case outlines what today’s emerging tech companies can learn from the rise—and fall—of the old ones. Read highlights from Case’s conversation with Fortune.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Will Amazon left developers monetize the Echo? by Stacey Higginbotham
Drones still fly dangerously close to airports by Jonathan Vanian
Why filtering in social media is becoming inevitable by Kia Kokalitcheva
Review: Oculus Rift is expensive, complicated, and totally wonderful
by Lisa Eadicicco
Virtual reality awareness is high, but will they buy? by Chris Morris
Periscope reaches 200 million broadcasts by Kia Kokalitcheva
Another iOS 9.3 bug causes apps to freeze your iPhone by Don Reisinger
Samsung plans third Galaxy S7 model by Kia Kokalitcheva
ONE MORE THING
No more lost luggage? Alaska Airlines is experimenting with solar-powered, electronic tags that connect to its mobile app so passengers can track their suitcase’s location. (Los Angeles Times)