Olio was first introduced to me in a conversation with a venture capitalist who said, “there is someone I want you to meet who is working on a high-end smartwatch up in San Francisco.” As soon as I learned that said individual was near Silicon Valley and not in Switzerland, I was immediately intrigued. The definition of “high-end smartwatch” in California certainly differs from what it means in Geneva. I’d venture a guess that the former implies some proficient level of functionality and engineering, whereas the latter all to frequently implies a chic design with gold, and sometimes diamonds. So my mind was open and all I knew was that someone would eventually be reaching out to me from a company call Olio.
Some brief research on Olio resulted in extra excitement merely based on the members of the Olio development team. Steven Jacobs – Olio’s founder – heralds from Apple and Hewlett Packard in their hardware development groups, and other members of the Olio team come from places such as Box, Oracle, Amazon, NASA, Rise Robotics, Movado, and Pixar. This did not seem like typical idealistic list of start-up freshman eager to make a loud splash with investors and nothing beyond a six month plan. Olio looked serious.
What I later learned was that Olio was developing both the hardware and software ends of their upcoming debut smartwatch device. The real question even before seeing the product was “what will Olio do to separate itself from Apple and Android… and what exactly do they mean by ‘high-end smartwatch?”
The Olio Model 1 is the company’s first smartwatch product, and it is scheduled to ship to customers in the Summer of 2015. Olio isn’t another crowd-funded product that may or may not ship, but a serious effort from a talented team looking to define a select niche in the smartwatch world. Sitting with founder Steven Jacobs, I asked him the simple question, “who did you have in mind as the type of person that will benefit from wearing an Olio?” His response was, “I wanted to consider the busiest person I could think of, because our goal is for the Olio to be a time-saving device. The busiest person I could think of was President Barack Obama.”
That actually makes sense, and the survival of President Obama, or any government leader is sifting through tons of information, getting the right type of advice, and being able to make quick decisions before moving on. Jacobs proceeded to tell me that in his research, he found out that for most of his memos, Barack has three simple choices to make as a response – “yes,” “no,” or “tell me more.” Jacobs wants Olio to help democratize the luxury of having a support network of assistants for more people. That is a way of saying that the Olio Model 1 isn’t just about the hardware and software on your wrist, but a learning engine that over times makes better and better suggestions for its wearer.
Olio calls this latter service “Olio Assist,” and it is a learning system based in the cloud that the watch and your phone interacts with on a constant basis. How might this system work? Jacobs presents an example to me that someone wearing an Olio might be traveling and at a meeting only to have the weather change and it start to rain. The system would take into consideration the local weather data and your current position away from normal transportation and ask “would you like for me to order you an Uber?” Thus, the learning engine would learn that you use Uber and that you probably don’t want to walk in the rain, thus proactively prompting a suggestion that it order an Uber car – and then actually doing so.
The Olio Model 1 smartwatch that we had at the time was an early prototype, so unfortunately, I could not see a lot of this functionality in action. What I was able to see was a glimpse of the working user interface, design of the operating system, and the actual Olio Model 1 watch collection hardware. Though, overall, I was able to learn about Jacob’s ambitious plans for Olio and what the start-up’s team was diligently working on.
The Olio operating system is designed to take advantage of other software services rather than force its wearers to use its system for a lot of functions. A good example is activity tracking features. The Olio Model 1 contains the same basic accelerometer sensors as most other current smartwatches, but rather than offer just one software solution, is about allowing you to choose which system you’d like to use in conjunction with its sensors – at least that is the idea. While Olio is about offering a curated and streamlined experience for the busy individual, it is attempting to extend its operating lifespan by understanding that it cannot tackle every software challenge internally – instead offering its wearers to select the latest and greatest services or whatever they prefer. It seems very likely that smartwatch-based services from third parties will be an inevitable part of the smartwatch wearing experience as the market matures.
From a distance, the Olio Model 1 may appeal like many of the other large round-cased smartwatches already available. Upon closer inspection, you’ll see an item that looks and feels a lot more like a traditional watch. The solid steel case is milled and polished and has a welcome heft to it. The Olio Model 1 will come in both steel and PVD-coated black steel models with a bracelet or strap. Users, of course, can substitute their own straps.
Olio is very proud of its use of traditional watch industry suppliers for much of the external hardware of the Olio Model 1. This results in much more attractive finishing and a level of detail that is absent in more volume-production smartwatches. Little touches like the beveled edges on the bracelet and the guilloche machine-engraved texture on the inner bezel is a detail you really won’t find in most other places.
Compared to the Apple Watch the Olio Model 1 is a different beast. Those who dislike the fact that the Apple Watch is an angular versus round case will likely gravitate toward the Olio Model 1. The Olio Model 1 is also a larger watch and feels like what might happen if a lot of dedicated smartwatch lovers created the Android Wear smartwatch they really wanted – only the Olio runs its own proprietary software. An early estimate also finds that the Olio Model 1 will have about 2 days of battery life (and then about two more days of standby time on top of that if necessary), and compared to the Apple Watch, it should have more water resistance.
It is also important to mention that Olio has designed the Olio Model 1 to work with either an Apple iPhone or an Android-based phone. While you can’t take calls on the Olio Model 1, you can speak to the watch and leverage the utility of Siri or Google Now – which is an important part of interacting with the system.
Without having tested the Olio smartwatch operating system in much detail, it is difficult to sum it up or discuss what it is like to live with it. More on that in the future… What I can talk about is the bigger picture of what Olio is trying to do with how users conceptualize interacting with the watch and making the best use out of the notification system.
First let me share some information from Olio on how they explain the key features and areas of differentiation of the Olio Model 1 and their software:● Dynamic Visualizations: Olio’s interface maps the busiest parts your day, making personal bandwidth glanceable, while simultaneously creating a dynamic watchface that is unique you.
● Temporal Streams: Access the right information at the right time, with notifications and information organized into two simple and intuitive time streams—earlier and later.
● Olio Assist: A cloud-based personal assistant that contextualizes and understands your personal preferences to offer insightful and actionable suggestions.
● Intelligent Actions: You can dismiss or respond to content with a simple swipe, and even have Olio Assist hold your calls/texts and remind you to respond at a later time.
● Control Hub: Control relevant third party products like thermostats, lights, locks, cars, speakers, and services like payments, directions and music without searching or wrestling for your phone.
● True Cross Platform Compatibility: Olio is an independent brand and offers freedom to connect with both Android and Apple phones, as well as a wide range of connected hardware products.
With all that said, I’d also like to mention Olio’s take on how people will interact with their smartwatches on a regular basis. Notifications are separated in to three distinct categories, “Earlier,” “Now,” and “Later.” This intelligent sense of organization allows the user to understand what is going on right now, what notifications they may have missed, and what to expect that is coming up soon such as meetings or reminders. Again, while I haven’t personally used it, the concept makes a lot of sense, and I am curious to see how it works with the learning “Olio Assist” system.
If you think about it, what Olio is attempting to do is extremely ambitious with so many “moving parts” and systems that need to work in order to create a fluid experience that consumers feel is useful (and ideally indispensable). The good news is that nothing Olio is working on is barred by available hardware technology and is more-or-less a set of (complex) software engineering challenges.
One of the cooler visual features of the Olio Model 1 is the visible magnetic charging coil on the rear of the case. The circular copper wire is not only an aesthetic element, but is a functional part of the charging system (there is a magnetic disc that attaches to the back of the case for that).
Going back to the original point of Olio attempting to be a high-end smartwatch, are its makers doing what is necessary to achieve that goal? I think it is too early to tell. The hardware might not have the lavish curated polish of the Apple Watch – but then again, it isn’t trying to be that. The Olio Model 1 – which really launches the company – is about a strong beginning and leveraging its boutique operation along with collective skills into a software and hardware experience that will be distinct from pretty much everything else out there.
Buying, wearing, and continuing to wear an Olio device will be entirely dependent on the success of the software – which already appears to have a lot of promise with clever dials, a system that wants to learn more about you, and an overall goal of helping you to visualize your past and present, as well as make simple decisions about your future.
The Olio Model 1 smartwatch will initially ship as a limited edition of 1000 pieces with half of those being in steel and the other half being in black-coated steel. Available for pre-order now, the Olio Model 1 Steel Collection will start at $595 and the Olio Model 1 Black Collection will start at $745. oliodevices.com