"Hello?" I'm talking into my hand like a phone and not getting any response.
"Put your elbow in a little bit," suggests Mark Tepper, the VP of sales and marketing at PH Technical Labs, a small technology company that is set to release the smartphone-connected watch I'm wearing and attempting to use. This is a prototype: The actual watches won't be out until December, and will retail for $249, $199, or $169 depending on whether buyers select a basic black, leather, or titanium model.
With a few more adjustments, I'm able to hear PH Technical Lab's president, Shariq Hamid, loud and clear on the other end of the line, no earpiece or headset required. The "HOT Watch," as the device is called, has a tiny directional speaker that bounces his voice off my cupped hand and into my ear. To end the call, I simply wave my hand goodbye.
Smartwatches currently on the market, like Pebble and Sony's Android-powered watch, don't have speakers or microphones. HOT Watch aims to be the first that actually allows you to make private calls without fishing a phone out of your bag first. Like the smartphones through which it makes the calls, the watch also displays info like calendar updates, text messages, weather, and stock quotes on a touchscreen. It has a three-day battery life (seven, if you don't talk much).
The project has raised $464,103 on Kickstarter, but its biggest obstacle in joining mainstream gadgets will not be funding, it will be overcoming the strangeness of speaking into your hand. Using your hand like a phone may not come with the cheesy connotations of a Bluetooth headset, but even Google's version of wearable computing, Google Glass, couldn't escape the term "Glasshole." Talking into your watch may look cool when Dick Tracy does it, but in real life it's still a little awkward.
Tepper says his marketing plan is to "percolate up" from early adopters while "cascading down" from the enterprise. He says that businesses with a lot of deliverymen, for instance, might be interested in supplying them with a hands-free conversation tool like HOT Watch. Same for cooks or construction workers. Hamid doesn't necessarily think his watch will make us look any less ridiculous than we already do. "You still have your phone in your ear," he says. "You just don't have the phone."