It sounded like a great, if weird, idea: Wear this ring, and you’ll be able to answer phone calls and listen to text messages by holding your finger up to your ear. The sound waves would pass through the bones of your finger directly into your eardrum using bone-conduction technology, and you’d never have to take your phone out in public again to shoot off a quick text or give someone a call.
The idea was good enough that in 2017, a Kickstarter campaign raised more than $330,000—more than 10 times the original goal of $30,000. Now, the smart ring, called Orii, is available in the United States at the MoMA Design Store for $199. (The company that makes it, called Origami Labs, is based in Hong Kong and has been selling the ring there and online since 2018.)
But there’s one problem: While the concept of the ring sounds great, it doesn’t work as well as promised.
I wore the ring for an afternoon and evening as I finished my work day and then ran a few errands around New York City. After a relatively simple setup, I tried out some of the ring’s features, which include reading your texts to you and activating your phone’s voice assistant.
At the press of a button (and with my finger pressed firmly against my ear), the ring read me all my texts and then started in on a huge number of unread messages from my extended family WhatsApp group, reciting them in your standard computer voice that struggled to pronounce some of my family’s names.
The real problems started, though, when I attempted to ask Siri to call my husband and my mom, which I tried both in Fast Company‘s relatively quiet office and out on the loud New York City street. Not only could the Orii ring not understand what I was saying in both instances, it ended up calling a random contact from my phone. I quickly gave up, exasperated by its inability to do what I asked (though in all fairness, this might be Siri’s fault, too). When I finally made a call just using my phone, it was nearly impossible to hear what the person on the other end was saying through the ring, and I ended up pressing my finger so hard against the side of my head that my ear started to hurt. The ring also is supposed to enable you to use gestures to do things like change the song when you’re playing music, but during setup I wasn’t able to make any of these gestural commands work.
With the rise of user-friendly software and hardware, it’s easy to quickly give up on devices like Orii when they don’t live up to the instant seamlessness that many of us who use Apple and Google products have become accustomed to. Our standards for design are now sky-high compared to the early years of computing, when users were expected to read the manual and figure out what the engineers were thinking. Today, technology is supposed to just work. When it doesn’t, we give up.
Despite its impracticality, Orii remains a beautiful idea, and bone conduction technology is popular in other forms, like headphones. But unless its designers create a user experience fit for the age of Apple, it will likely languish as yet another crowdfunded wearable that seemed too good to be true—and was.