London-based startup Kovert Designs doesn’t think of itself as a wearable tech company. Instead, founder Kate Unsworth calls her firm a “research and design lab,” which is trying to reduce the stress modern life throws at us.
But its first product is a wearable.
The Altruis stone vibrates when a designated contact tries to call you or send you a text, Whatsapp message, or email. You can also set specific keywords in the app so that the stone will notify you if anyone uses them in a message.
The stone is made from zirconia ceramics and fits into a designer ring, bracelet, or necklace designed by Kovert. The full piece (stone set in jewellery) starts at £290. You’ll also need to download Kovert’s accompanying iOS app, which is compatible with the iPhone (4S or newer), iPad, and iPod touch.
The Altruis is incredibly simple when compared to other wearables, like a smartwatch, or even other smart jewellery. That includes the Ringly, which connects to
other apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Uber. Ringly’s smart rings run from $US195 to $US260 (about £125 to about £170).
Having nearly reached a burnout point in her previous life as a management consultant, Kovert Designs founder Kate Unsworth says she wanted to keep the products simple, committing to cutting out unnecessary notifications and only alerting you to the stuff that “matters..
The idea is that you’ll be more present in real life because you won’t feel the need to check your smartphone all the time.
The company just completed a seed funding round, but isn’t planning to announce how much. Unsworth did reveal that the raise came on at the “top end” of the seed round spectrum. Some of London’s most prominent investors like Passion Capital’s Eileen Burbidge and Index Ventures’ Robin Klein took part. Klein invested in the company through his personal fund Tag.
I tried out an Altruis ring for about a week. I really liked the idea, but the first version of the Altruis is much too big for my tiny hands:
Here it is with a coffee cup for scale:
To make the Altruis work, you have to tell the app which contacts you want to get notifications from. The app is split into two modes: “Work” and “Play.” This meant I could add people who I might be meeting on the weekend, but who I wouldn’t want to be distracted by while in the office — or vice versa. Then, depending on what I was doing, I could set the app to “Work” or “Play,” and only the contacts in the group I picked would make the ring vibrate.
The two different modes could be renamed too, so you could specify who you would want to be able to reach you while you were in a meeting or at dinner.
Each mode is split into high priority or low priority. You then pick the contacts or Whatsapp groups you want to put into each category. The stone will vibrate violently if one of your high priority contacts wants to get hold of you, and less so if one of your low priority contacts wants to get in touch.
Setting specific keywords means that if you get an email from someone who isn’t a designated contact with a keyword in it — say the name of a project you’re working on or an event you’re attending — the ring will buzz. You can pick two keywords or phrases — one low priority and another high priority.
In general the product worked pretty well, and I felt less pressure to keep on checking my phone for no reason. I did find that there was sometimes a delay of a few minutes between the time a message reached my phone and when I felt the ring buzz. If a designated contact called, the ring buzzed immediately.
Even though the Altruis is supposed to help us switch off, and isn’t supposed to be one of those wearables that does everything, I still wanted more from it. Business Insider employees tend to contact each other over Slack most of the time, and the Altruis doesn’t have that integration. Unsworth pointed out that the danger with Slack is how often you’d be getting notifications, unless you set it to specific keywords. But if it only buzzed when I was direct messaged or tagged I would be less worried about missing something, and wouldn’t feel the need to check it on my phone when I wasn’t at work.
This is the first iteration of this product, which you can put on a
waiting list to purchase. When I spoke to Unsworth about some of my reservations, she hinted that some of the things I would look for if I was actually buying the product are already on the way.
For instance, as battery efficiency improves, the company will be able to create a much smaller version. Unsworth says the new collection, which will be released in time for the holidays, will be much cheaper too.
The Kovert team is also trying to figure out the bare minimum of messaging apps that people need to get notifications from, but not feel overwhelmed. Unsworth says she doesn’t want to overstep that mark because the Altruis is supposed to the opposite of other wearables that notify you about every little thing. Right now, the Altruis only lets you know when you get a call, text, Whatsapp message, or email.