#Asia These students from Singapore are making a smart strap for your watch

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Patch prototype - TIA photo

The current Patch prototype. Photo credit: Tech in Asia.

Almost two years after the Apple Watch, I’m still not sold on smartwatches – and I don’t know if I’ll ever be. The combination of cost and limited usability just doesn’t make sense to me. Not to mention that no smartwatch comes close to the aesthetics of even a moderately priced timepiece.

The prototype is at a very early stage but already feels good to wear.

But here’s my conundrum: I’m still a fan of tech. I like some of the functionality a smartwatch – or even a basic activity tracker – provides. Why not have a sleek-looking watch that can do this while still being a piece of engineering that can survive more than a couple of hardware cycles?

Singapore University of Technology and Design student Kai Yuan See feels the same way. A fan of timepieces, as he puts it, he tried a smartwatch and was disappointed. “I feel a smartwatch should not be called a timepiece, it should just be called a gadget,” he tells Tech in Asia.

So his idea was, why not put all the tech in a watch strap, which can then be attached to any timepiece you like?

Together with his teammates, Jun Hao Chiew and Gelin Liu, they are developing Patch, a smart strap that bestows “smart” functionality upon regular watches. The trio has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, asking for US$35,140.

Patch smart watch strap

Photo credit: Patch.

Strap in

The strap – available in leather and nylon versions – combines with a mobile app to track your steps. Sleep-tracking functionality will be added as well. It vibrates for notifications and reminders, like when you’ve left your phone behind or you have been sitting too long.

It can also control certain functions of your phone through gestures. The team demonstrates this by shaking the watch to take a selfie with Kai Yuan’s phone. More gesture options could be on the way too, depending on user feedback.

The prototype version I tried, made of leather, is at a very early stage but already feels good to wear. The vibration function and gesture detection work well. What feels a little off is that Patch contains a hard circuit board, which makes the strap containing it a little too rigid.

“Once we get funded, our aim is to look into flexible circuit boards,” Kai Yuan says. About one-fifth of the total crowdfunding amount will be devoted to that.

Patch smart watch strap

The rigid circuit board in the prototype results in this unsightly bend. The team wants to change that with flexible boards. Photo credit: Patch.

Patch addresses smartwatches’ flimsy battery life too. It currently uses a coin-cell battery that the team claims lasts about three months. The problem is, it’s meant to be replaceable by the user. While it’s a lithium polymer battery that can be charged, they feel this would introduce an extra hassle to the wearer.

Options like wireless and kinetic charging are off the table.

It feels like swapping one hassle for another, but the team keeps an open mind. “If the advantages outweigh the inconvenience of charging, it’s worth implementing it,” says Gelin, who’s in charge of product and design.

Options like wireless charging and kinetic charging (using the wearer’s movement to charge the battery, like some watches do) are off the table as they would either bulk up the strap or jack up the price.

For manufacturing, the team will look toward the obvious destination of Shenzhen. They will also work with a manufacturing partner in Singapore who will produce a first batch of fewer than 1,000 pieces.

Smart competition

Patch isn’t the only attempt to put smart functionality in watch straps out there. European companies Maintool and Rifft are working on their own versions. Maintool recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, raising US$14,000 for its Classi strap.

Another similar product, ironically enough called Unique, raised US$51,000 on Kickstarter last year.

Established watchmakers like Montblanc and IWC have also dipped their toes in the smart strap pool.

Kai Yuan feels Patch’s edge will be in its small form factor and flexible circuit board, as well as its lower price point. Upon release, a nylon Patch strap will set you back US$76 and a leather strap will cost US$90. Classi starts at US$149 and I don’t even want to ask how much an IWC watch with the IWC Connect strap costs.

Patch smart watch strap

Photo credit: Tech in Asia.

My own impression is that Patch and Classi are the better-looking ones of the bunch – they seem exactly as unobtrusive as a traditional watch fan would want. The others look either too bulky or too weighed down with additional screens and fugly notification lights.

The Patch team is passionate about bringing this project to fruition and plans to keep working on it even if the current crowdfunding campaign fails.

I can’t say for sure that Patch and similar products are the solution to my watch vs tech conundrum. What they are is an encouraging step in that direction, as wearable gadgets are trying to figure out their place in the market.

Converted from Singapore dollars. US$1 = S$1.42

This post http://ift.tt/2gGA78o appeared first on Tech in Asia.

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