Will.i.am is developing wearable tech for 'screenagers'
On Wednesday night, Will.i.am took the stage at Dreamforce 2014 in San Francisco to present to the world his latest tech venture: A smartband produced in collaboration with AT&T that will be part of a whole wardrobe of wearable tech items including a backpack, jacket, shoes and glasses.
We caught up with the rapper and tech entrepreneur via Skype to demo the smartband, which is actually more of a cuff with a touch screen. It's called the i.amPULS, and according to Will.i.am -- legal name William Adams -- it was designed with fashion at the forefront. "We're not coming at this from Silicon Road," he says.
The voice-activated band can make and receive calls without being hooked up to your cell phone via Bluetooth -- it uses a SIM card instead -- and has messaging, maps, time, calendars, music email and a photo reel.
Can it take photos?
"That's a question we worked long and hard on," he says. "Let's erase what a smartphone told us and imagine things you wear. If you wear your functionality, where would you put your camera? On your glasses. Why would you put steps on your wrists? Shouldn't you put it on your shoes? I don't think people have actually been thinking about wearables the way we should actually be wearing them."
That's why the 60-person team at i.am+ is working on a full range of wearable products in addition to the band, which will launch for holiday. The backpack, which will likely drop at the same time, has speakers for music. Further down the line there will be a jacket that charges your devices, shoes that count steps and weigh you and glasses that can take photos. While some tech products aim to bundle every piece of functionality into one tight package, Adams wants to break them up while tying the products together aesthetically. Think matte blacks and nickel.
A little context for those who think of Adams as a member of the Black Eyed Peas first. The rapper was a founding equity partner in Beats Electronics, the headphone maker that sold to Apple earlier this summer, and has invested in Twitter. He started a consumer electronics company called i.am+, which released its first product, a phone accessory that gives the device the capability of a point-and-shoot camera, in 2012.
Is Adams trying to take on the Apples or Googles of the world? No. He compares his relationship to those companies to worshipping Michael Jackson as a kid: He loved Jackson and never thought of himself as a competitor to him, but that didn't stop him from making music. Adams does think, by the way, that the Apple Watch is the first wearable to hit the fashion and tech quotient correctly.
Adams isn't even trying to take on the same consumer demographic as Apple, necessarily.
"I don't like using the word 'street' because it's blurred at the moment, and I don't like using the word 'millennial,' because what is that?" he explains. "We're developing products for screenagers. People who are connected, want to be connected, have a fashion sensibility and want things to wear to match their aesthetic. And right now I can't say that's been done up until the Apple Watch."
By targeting a younger demographic and marrying tech with fashion, i.am+ is also hoping to make tech cool to kids who might not otherwise aspire to work in that field.
"We want to inspire inner city kids to take up computer science," Adams says. "Let's use this potent thing called fashion and culture to lead the way."
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