The vast majority of today’s wearable devices still force you to spend time looking at a screen — even if it’s smaller than a smartphone screen, and usually more accessible.
San Francisco startup OnBeep wants you to communicate with groups of people instantly, with the push of a button, and without needing to look at a smartphone — or any other screen for that matter.
To this company, it’s all about being connected and being able to be heads-up.
OnBeep raised $US6 million in late August to bring this mystery wearable device to market — it will be introduced later this year, and sold to consumers directly. You can sign up with OnBeep right now to get an early invite to the company’s limited preview of the device.
We don’t know its price, or what the device will look like, but CEO Jesse Robbins insists “it’s not a beeper.”
“If you’re looking for an analogy, we’re in the radio clan,” Robbins told Business Insider.
The OnBeep device, according to Robbins, will be worn like a pin button or brooch, either on your self or on a bag strap. It interacts with a smartphone application that leverages the phone’s cellular networks so you can communicate with groups of people instantly.
Robbins says OnBeep is similar to a radio or Siri, where you hear an “attention tone” after you press the button knowing it’s ok to speak. That’s also why the company chose its name, simply to let people know “we’re doing something audio-related.”
“To build a successful device people will want to wear every day, it has to be attractive, fit their style, make sense with their clothing and other things they have, and it needs to fit in with their lives and make their lives better on a daily basis,” Robbins told us. “We put a lot of resources into finding out those things early, not just for early adopters, but also to find out what mainstream users are going to want and love.
“We focused a lot on making sure the design appeals to both men and women, and we spent a lot of time looking at how women wear their clothes and wear devices. It needs to work from a purse as well as it works from a jeans pocket.”
OnBeep has assembled a talented product team, which is led by cofounder Roger Wood, one of the key product people at Nextel, which was the first cell service that had instant, walkie-talkie-esque communications. The company’s 20-person team also includes former employees from Apple, Google, Northrop Grumman, and Lab126, Amazon’s hardware design lab.
Robbins says OnBeep was inspired by his experience with communication equipment going back to his years as a volunteer firefighter — he says he became an EMT in 1999. Greg Albrecht, OnBeep’s CTO, also has experience as an EMT and emergency manager.
“On a task force for [Hurricane] Katrina, I realised any time I’d done any of that stuff, I always had these great communication technologies available to me,” Robbins said.
“Every great moment in humanity has depended on people working together working in real-time, letting them focus on the problems they’re trying to achieve, and not having to futz with something that takes them out of that moment.”
Robbins says OnBeep isn’t designed to replace life safety equipment, but in the company’s limited preview testing, he said it’s been used by event teams looking to communicate while putting on conferences, art people putting on projects and festivals, and even his cofounder Albrecht used OnBeep with his wife and friends to keep track of all their kids at the zoo. Robbins says OnBeep can also be used by families or loved ones who just want to keep in touch while they’re remote.
Soon, OnBeep will also be used by several food trucks in the San Francisco area, and the company is talking to several catering groups, and a volunteer group “that puts on a big music festival.” Robbins says he wants the OnBeep device to appeal to people that have used similar, previous technologies — like Nextel or traditional radios — as well as people that have no idea what OnBeep is doing or why it’s important.
“We couldn’t have built this company or made the progress we made [with OnBeep] two or three years ago,” Robbins tells us. “There’s been a fundamental shift in the past two years, a Cambrian explosion of new stuff appearing because the fundamental platform has changed profoundly, which began with the introduction of the iPhone. And as we fielded the first evaluation units, we found again and again there’s a real hunger for technology that gets out of the way and that looks good — that actually complements someone’s style and clothing and fashion choices.”
The OnBeep device is in its “final design stages,” thanks to an early partnership with the manufacturing company PCH International, which makes Beats headphones, among other hardware and electronics.
Robbins wouldn’t reveal anything about the final design to us, but he said someone already tried to steal one of the models a few months ago.
“At that moment, I felt so happy and relieved,” Robbins told us, regarding the attempted theft. “Because if it’s good enough for someone to try to steal, we’re on the right track.”