Many of the communication devices that attempt to make the jump from our hands to our wrists tend to follow the same form factor as mechanical watches (think Pebble or the much-rumored Apple iWatch, for example). The Smile SmartWatch from Emopulse is quite a different proposition. If the company manages to transform its working prototype into an actual commercial product, the Smile will be a smartphone, entertainment and gaming hub, social network and news feed, personal assistant, digital watch, and a stunning piece of wrist bling all rolled into one futuristic device.
Basically a twin-display smartphone you can wrap around your wrist and wear like a bracelet, the working prototypes are reported to have made use of experimental flexible displays. The first batch were monochrome, but the latest are full-color OLED. The upper screen auto activates as the arm is raised, while the lower screen turns on when it's pointed upwards by twisting the wrist. The displays are housed within an aluminum enclosure, topped by waterproof and shock-resistant glass from Schott.
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"We have two manufacturers of flexible screens at the moment and each of them is in a hurry to be the first on the market," says the Californian company's founder Nick Koloskov, who has been working on the device for the last four years. "Our partners guaranteed us a delivery of flexible screens by the end of the year (this is the main reason why we have not released products at the beginning of this year)."
Koloskov told us that the Smile will be no Pebble, and should have a display more comparable to the quality offered by the iPhone. Each display will have a screen size "the same as 3 icon rows on the iPhone 4S screen."
He admitted that Emopulse may get beaten to market by the likes of Apple and Samsung, but said that meeting customer expectations in terms of high-quality display and functionality is the driving force behind product development, rather than being first out of the starting blocks.
The Smile runs an algorithm-based, custom Linux AI operating system, and uses biosensors embedded in the device to gather information about its wearer and uses the data to help automate certain processes.
After watching a few movies or listening to streamed music, for example, the system will recommend more content based on user tastes and/or emotional responses. The accuracy of the predictions will increase over time. The sensors could also be used alongside virtual physical trainers to help keep users in trim with personal, monitored workouts.
The device will be powered by the yet-to-be-released low-power, high-speed OMAP 5 processor from Texas Instruments, which has built-in graphical processing for high-definition playback that should be able to comfortably cope with on-wrist gaming. The Smile boasts 2 GB of system memory, and either 128 or 256 GB of included solid state memory.
Other key specs include a nano-SIM card slot, allowing the device to act as an LTE-ready smartphone in its own right, or be paired with an existing smartphone via Bluetooth. The main display will auto switch between day- and night-time modes, but the phone part can remain active while you slumber, and the Smile will auto-direct incoming calls to voice mail or play a message advising callers to ring back later.
In addition to being Wi-Fi-capable, it's also said to be NFC-capable for instant, single-touch device connectivity, though its inclusion seems to be more geared toward making the Smile your mobile virtual credit card wallet or electronic lock opener. All keys and payment information will be encrypted, and as an added security measure, the data will be blocked when the Smile is removed from the wrist.
Physical connectivity comes in the shape of a sliding USB 3.0 connector, which is also said to help keep the Smile from sliding off the wrist. Though the website currently mentions the inclusion of a Thunderbolt 10 Gbps communications port, Koloskov has told us that prototype testing has revealed unexpected issues, so the first production units will not include this technology.
According to its developers, Smile's current 2,500 mAh battery should be good for two days of intensive use between charges, or seven days in power-saving mode. They are reportedly looking at producing a high-end version of the device that will sport a 3,000 mAh battery.
Proprietary Purepath audio technology is claimed to offer users a fuller wireless sonic playback experience. There's no audio jack for headphones, so users will need to use wireless headsets for private music listening. Dropout-free, hi-fi enthusiast-pleasing 16-bit, 44.1/48 KHz CD quality audio is what's being promised here. Stereo speakers feature for more public sharing.
The Smile goes one better than modern smartphones by offering three integrated cameras and three microphones. There's a face-tracking webcam at the top of the main display for web chats and video-conferencing. The top edge packs a 12-megapixel snapper that's capable of recording 1080p high definition video, while a third camera "designed with unique optics" is mounted on the side of the smartwatch.
This functions like a scanner/reader. Pointing it at bar codes, QR codes or URLs will result in the relevant information being displayed on the device's screen. Emopulse says that this camera will also follow the path of a finger as it runs below text on a printed page, and capture the fragment in the device's memory for later recall.
The device will also benefit from Siri-like speech recognition, and be able to recognize a user's natural language. There'll be an avatar-based digital personal assistant to help with searches, setting reminders, making notes and the like, and the system will learn from the kind of searches made, commands given and requests made.
Buying flowers for a colleague is the example given by Emopulse. The first time that the Smile is requested to seek out a florist and make a purchase, it will offer a number of suggested outlets. Subsequent requests can then be automated based on the actions taken in the first instance. Of course, you could just opt to use menu-driven onscreen navigation to organize your life instead.
To get these futuristic devices onto the wrists of consumers, Emopulse has launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign, where two flavors of the Smile SmartWatch are available for pre-order. Pledge levels start of US$480 for the 128 GB models. They're available in black with blue accenting to the side, come in four sizes, and in left- or right-handed orientation. A 256 GB version can be yours for a pledge of $550. The campaign runs until July 11.
The first batch (for developers) will not include wireless charging capabilities and should be ready for release by October. Serial production is due to start by the end of 2013 (pending delivery of flexible displays). Emopulse is planning to open a Smile app store in early 2014, along with a software development kit for the production of third party apps.
Considering all that the Smile SmartWatch wants to be, it will be quite an achievement to actually pull this off, but we're gonna have to wait until the end of the year for any glimpse of actual product. Though Koloskov claims to have working Smile SmartWatch prototypes in the bag, none were ready in time for the promo video shoot. As a result, the actors in the video below look to be wearing plastic bracelets which have had display functionality digitally overlayed in post-production.
"We apologize about the video as it was filmed a year ago, while many more interfaces were not created, so some interfaces were replaced by computer graphics," he says. "Today things have changed, but we will show it in October, when the product will be officially presented to the general public."
Editor update 24 Feb 2014: Though the EmoPulse website is still live at the time of this update, last year's crowdfunding campaign page is no longer on Indiegogo and the link to the company's online shop is shown as unavailable.
We are unaware of the fate and/or future (if there is one) of the Emopulse Smile project, but we'll keep you posted as more information comes to hand.