Wearable Tech

Cuff Gives Link New Meaning

The nascent wearable devices market so far has focused more on function than on form, but Tuesday brought word of a company that aims to change all that. Specifically, Cuff unveiled a new assortment of safety-focused fashion wearables its founders call technology “you’d actually want to wear.”

At the heart of Cuff’s fashion-conscious collection is a tiny component called the “CuffLinc” — a diminutive wireless device that can be removed and tucked into any of several accompanying accessories in the Cuff lineup, including bracelets, necklaces and key chains available in a variety of finishes and textures. The CuffLinc syncs to the user’s smartphone.

Users set up a circle of Cuff connections. In one scenario, should they run into a situation threatening their safety, they simply could squeeze the Cuff accessory they happened to be wearing and an alert would be sent to the wearer’s trusted network.

Cuff involves almost no maintenance, the company says. Rather than have to plug it in for regular charging, users need only replace the CuffLinc wireless component once a year.

Cuff plans to license the CuffLinc to other fashion retailers and designers. A mobile app will allow Cuff to launch additional updates, and third-party developers will be able to build and create their own unique features for the Cuff platform as well.

‘Aesthetic Choice Is What’s Missing’

“We came at this from the idea that aesthetic choice is what’s missing now in wearables,” Cuff founder Deepa Sood told TechNewsWorld. “The tech is there, but we think eventually it will be more seamlessly integrated into your life. That’s why our tech is modular.”

Cuff aims to “open up a dialogue in the market for people who wouldn’t be caught dead in Google Glass,” Sood added.

Initially the company primarily is targeting women with a security focus, she said.

“We intentionally went out with a singular function focused on security because of the fatigue around fitness,” she explained.

9 Easy Pieces

Among the pieces in the debut Cuff fashion wearable collection are the Lena, a tapered leather bracelet with metal clasp available in black and antiqued bronze; the Carin, a shredded leather band with antiqued accents available in ivory/brown or pewter/black; the Mia, an everyday metal Cuff available in shiny gold tone or textured stingray; the Lisa, a simple, 18-inch filigree pendant in gold-tone or silver-tone; the Soleil, an opera-inspired 24-inch bead chain with gold accents; the DVB, an athletic sportsband with brass accents in a matte-black finish; and the J, a metal and leather keychain available in gold tone or silver tone.

All the pieces in the Cuff collection can be preordered from the Cuff website for delivery this fall. Pricing ranges from US$50 to $150, including CuffLinc, on the accessories available so far.

Competing With Jewelry

“Cuff is a blunt but direct instrument,” Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, told TechNewsWorld. “It allows you to send a signal to a network at the touch of a button discreetly hidden within a bangle, pendant or other piece of jewelry.”

The line of accessories falls broadly into the personal safety market, he noted, such as for teens or preteens — or even older seniors who may suffer from Alzheimer’s.

The line faces considerable competition from a host of upcoming smartwatches and bands, but “what separates the product is its modularity — something we’ve seen Sony try with the Core fitness module it introduced at CES — and easy activation,” Rubin pointed out. “That the company is starting out with nine different wearable designs shows its commitment to make wearing the device fashionable.”

Of course, given the individual nature of fashion, “you can go out with what you think are great designs, but the more comprehensive an effort you make in that regard, the more you set yourself up to compete not just with other products in that realm, but also jewelry,” he added. “I think some of the smartwatches face that as well.”

Another interesting angle is the challenge Cuff faces in building out a network of people who use its devices.

“One way to bridge the gap is to release some kind of smartphone app so the person doesn’t have to purchase the device to be notified — or to integrate it with existing social networks such as Twitter,” Rubin noted.

‘The Right Direction’

There’s no doubt fashion will play a key role in the success of wearable technologies, Tuong Nguyen, a principal research analyst with Gartner, told TechNewsWorld.

Such devices must not only be functional but also “need to have appeal,” Nguyen explained. “That’s why products like Google Glass in their current iteration won’t have that much traction.”

So, “they’re taking it in the right direction,” he said. “This is where wearable vendors should be heading.”

‘It’s About Time’

Indeed, “my first thought is, ‘it’s about time someone added some bling to wearable tech,'” agreed Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst with Tirias Research.

“The obvious target market for these first products is women, which is a wise move from both a sales and adoption standpoint,” McGregor told TechNewsWorld. “Just think about how big Swatch became just by adding unique fashion to watches.”

Too many tech companies underestimate the value of aesthetics, he added.

“It’s not just about what you can do, it is how it fits into your life and your style,” McGregor opined. “I don’t know how successful Cuff will be, but I do think that creative solutions like this will be critical to establishing a leadership position in wearables.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.

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