💥A Boom with a View💥 is a column about startups and the technology industry, written by Erin Griffith. Find them all here: fortune.com/boom.
More info, fewer screens: 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. Last week Apple (AAPL) lowered the price of the cheapest Apple Watch by $50.
That pall of failure cast a shadow on the entire wearable tech category. Fitbit (FIT) stock is down by more than 50% this year. Last week Pebble Watch, the Kickstarter-fueled first-mover in smartwatches, 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. (How long does it take you to catch up on all the pings from Slack, Twitter, gChat, multiple inboxes, and text messages after a simple-one-hour meeting? Do you really want those alerts distracting you during the meeting, when you can’t do anything about them anyway?)
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 that 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.
From the Dept. of Predictability: Instagram users don’t like the idea of filtering their feed with an algorithm! Instagram users also didn’t like the idea of ads, or the idea of a tiny change to their terms of service, or the idea of Instagram launching on Android. (Seriously, they griped about that.) Even if every Internet service were run as a charity to the Cat Gif Gods, people would find a way to protest against it. It’s not just users that are whining—the influencers and brands that have built big followings on Instagram know that the next step is that they’ll have to pay to boost their reach, just like they do on Facebook.
Virtual Reality Meets Reality: The Oculus reviews are out. The Oculus reviews are out! Does it live up to the hype? (Remember Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s review—“probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life, and maybe ever will see.”) The reviews say no, or at least not yet. The VR headset is too expensive and uncomfortable, they say. This is Facebook’s first attempt at hardware that has actually made it to market, so the pressure to justify a $2 billion acquisition is on. 💥
READ this profile of Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
SKIM this other long story about Google.
SKIP yet another “everybody is screwed except me and my portfolio” VC interview.
The FBI had a big day. (It unlocked The Phone, though this solves nothing and is far from the end of the fight between the government and Silicon Valley.)
Pandora had a little day. (It’s had yet another CEO switcheroo, making a sale less likely.)
Theranos had a day. (A new study shows its tests produced irregular results.)
The thing you missed on Twitter is pigeons wearing backpacks.
The hot new startup is your local digital sweatshop.
Proof of our impending death is Donald Trump’s one core philosophy. (Hint: It’s not limited government!) 💥