The founders of Kiwi Wearables set out about a year ago to build a wearable computer controlled through state-of-the-art motion sensors and gyroscopes, says cofounder Ali Nawab.
"We basically were looking to build a product that relied on the power of all the sensors that were available," he says. "Kind of like how voice became popular with Siri, we were looking to push motion as the source of interaction."
Of course, they also wanted to build a machine consumers would actually find useful. In the validation process, they found potential customers were definitely interested in some of the features a wearable smartwatch could deliver, but they had major misgivings.
Their research indicated people wanted to be notified of phone calls and texts without having to pull out their phones, and they worried about missing calls from their phones when deep in a pocket or purse. They wanted to be able to interact with other electronics—dim lights, advance PowerPoint slides, find a missing iPhone—using something always available at their fingertips.
"We spent a fair amount of time with focus groups and people just trying to figure out what problem or issues they have on a day-to-day basis," Nawab says.
But, Kiwi found, a big part of their target audience already wore a traditional wristwatch they were quite happy with and they weren’t necessarily looking to trade it for a newfangled gadget—even it came with "smart" features. So, Kiwi created something it calls Glance, billed in an ongoing Kickstarter campaign as "a smart accessory for your watch" that attaches unobtrusively to an existing timepiece’s watchband.
"We thought there needs to be a product that works with your watch that you already have to give you all the notifications and features that you would expect with the smartwatch," Nawab says. "It shouldn't disturb the aesthetic of the watch that you have or the comfort level that you already have with the watch that you've been wearing for a little bit."
The Toronto-based company plans to start shipping the Glance in October 2014, along with Android and iOS apps to let the devices interact via Bluetooth with users’ smartphones, says Nawab. Kiwi’s actively talking to Kickstarter supporters about what features to prioritize for the apps and to developers about a growing SDK to let third-party tools interact with the devices, he says.
Developers will ultimately be able to access the Glance’s API from smartphone apps or through web apps through a web socket interface, and train the device’s motion detection systems to listen for certain user movements. A Unity3D plug-in will eventually help programmers integrate the device as a game controller, Nawab says.
"A large portion of our motion recognition tools have been built up incrementally as we were getting more and more input from the developer community," Nawab says.
But at launch time, Kiwi plans to focus on the iOS and Android apps, and on features most exciting to end users.
"With our early backers, we've already started the dialogue with them and we're collecting their insights or their feedback on what they're most excited about," he says. "A typical consumer is not really that interested in the machine learning engine or how it works—what they're interested in is use cases: How is this going to help; what am I going to do with it?"