By Heather Clancy
March 29, 2016

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.

Erin Griffith
@eringriffith
Erin.Griffith@fortune.com

This essay is part of Griffith’s ongoing series about startups, “A Boom with a View.”

 

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