Chronos turns any classic timepiece into a smartwatch
Chronos Aims to Turn Your Favorite Watch Into a Smartwatch.
Currently Chronos can make eight different vibration patterns and six different colours, letting you know who is trying to contact you or which app is sending you notifications.A startup called Chronos wants to bring a smartwatch to every watch wearer’s wrist—without you having to get rid of the watch you’ve already got.One of the big complaints about today’s smartwatch technology is that every option has been a kind of all-in land grab for wrist real estate; if you’re wearing the MB Chronowing, for example, or the Apple Watch, it’s highly unlikely (unless your name is Inspector Gadget) that you’ll be strapping any other timepiece — smart or dumb — to your wrist at the same time.
Watch enthusiasts may not want to exchange their timeless timepieces for short-lived smartwatches, but a new product can help give their analog pieces some of smartwatches’ best tricks.While reputed smartphone producers like Apple and Samsung try to allure customers with new smartwatches and accessories, Chronos is working on technology to make all watches smart.
On Thursday, the company debuted its first product: a slim, stainless steel disk that sticks to the underside of any watch, giving it a few smart features, such as phone notifications. That’s why we’re intrigued by Chronos, a barely 2-year-old San Francisco-based start-up that’s devised a way to add a handful of smartwatch functions like fitness tracking and message notification to almost any wristwatch via a wafer of stainless steel roughly the size and shape of a U.S. 50-cent piece. Yes, say the founders of Chronos, a San Francisco startup that is making a device that attaches to the back of almost any watch and via Bluetooth turns the timepiece — whether a Patek Philippe, a Swatch or a Mickey Mouse watch — into a fitness tracker with notification capabilities. Chronos is the brainchild of horological enthusiast, former investment banker and Chronos CEO Mark Nichol. “I fell in love with watches when my wife gave me a Swiss Reconvilier watch on our wedding day,” Nichol said by phone Wednesday. “It’s a classic-looking watch and I wear it on almost a daily basis. … Chronos does fitness tracking too, and it can also control a connected phone in basic ways, like declining calls or skipping ahead a track when listening to music.
Although their usefulness hasn’t been truly proven, smartwatches have become incredibly popular these days and many more people are willing to ditch their old timepieces in favor of the intelligent models. He has used a Nike Fuel band, a Fitbit and a Jawbone Up, but didn’t like combining them on his wrist, especially at work. “It was an extra thing to wear every day, and it just didn’t look good,” Nichol said. “I’d look down at my watch at this beautiful thing next to a rubber band.” To turn his watch into something that would give him all the data he needed, he enlisted Luke Fromowitz, formerly of Samsung’s product innovation team, to be his chief technology officer. Chronos, however, is paying attention to the needs of customers, who would like to have smart technology embedded on their watches, without giving away their timers.
The device features fall into three categories: fitness tracking (an accelerometer counts steps and activity), notification (including phone calls and calendar invites) and the ability to control certain phone functions (taking photos or silencing phone calls for example) by tapping and gesturing. When Chronos was on a watch, connected via Bluetooth to a smartphone, I didn’t even notice it until it sprung into action, lightly vibrating or emitting an LED glow to tip me off that I needed to check my phone. Nichol says the disc has a 36-hour battery life and charges wirelessly through its stainless steel case in about an hour and a half when set in its dish-shaped charger. Putting a tiny flashing disc beneath a several hundred or several thousand dollar watch isn’t necessarily the most elegant solution in the world, but it’s a neat option for people who are interested in smartwatches but don’t want to give up what they’re currently wearing. It’s waterproof, and a microsuction surface on the back lets it adhere to the underneath of a watch, situating it between the mechanism and your wrist.
Chronos can be setup with different vibrations or colors for different phone alerts: Phone calls, text messages, calendar invites, specific app notifications. The company started taking pre-orders for the $99 device via its website www.wearchronos.com starting today, with orders expected to ship in spring 2016. The Chronos does add an appreciable thickness to the watch, setting it higher off of your wrist, but it isn’t particularly noticeable when placed beneath a larger model. Inside the Chronos is an array of sensors, a few LEDs, a vibration engine, and a battery, letting it add sort of ad-hoc smartwatch functionality to watches you already wear.
We’re hoping get one of these Chronos discs sandwiched between our right wrist and our favorite Shinola Runwell sometime before the month’s out and for a test drive. The Chronos device is designed to fit 80 percent of the mens and womens watches on the market, including every watch on the top 20 best-sellers list. “I just thought that would be great if I could keep my watch and stick something on the back,” Nichol said. “To me, technology should be discreet and invisible. It doesn’t vibrate for every notification, however, instead asking wearers to set up every app and every contact who they want to receive notifications from. You realize your watch has gotten smarter when you see LED lights lightning the screen of your watch or when you feel the timer vibrating, the developer has explained.
It allows people to keep their individuality.” Chronos will accept pre-orders starting Nov. 5 at www.wearchronos.com, with an introductory price of $99. The lights can also be turned off, in case a person doesn’t want their wrist flashing all the time, but Luke Fromowitz, Chronos’ CTO, claims that this is actually something people are fond of, especially people with high-end watches. “They love it. On my wrist, the discrete Chronos device could shine a short radius of light from beneath a watch in a wide spectrum of colors, and even multi colored animations.
Unfortunately, all notifications and changes have to be made by accessing the smartphone, because the disc cannot turn the watch screen into a touch screen. Nichol said this would all be customizable: Set green for text messages from specific contacts, red for work email, blue for calls and purple for an Uber ride arriving. What the Chronos can do is obviously very limited — you can’t read or reply to a text message, for instance — but it still gets at the core of modern smartwatches, which is enough to make it a passable substitute. Given how polarizing smartwatches have been, Chronos may be a great way for people to try basic wearable tech without ditching their beloved timepiece.
It prompts you to pair with the device and pulls in your health data from iOS’s HealthKit (it will also work with your favourite fitness apps on Android). Steps, distance, active calories burned, and flights of stairs climbed are the main categories, and the interface is clean and easy to read, showing activity across the day in a ring.
For the former, you can assign a contact her own combination and get that vibration and flash whenever she contacts you, whether it’s through a phone call, an e-mail, or a WhatsApp message. Simple things such as calendar alerts and message notifications are where smartwatches shine right now, and I liked that with Chronos, it was my wrist buzzing instead of my phone. I did, however, keep the LEDs off most of the time, since I got quite a few strange glances from friends at a bar one night when a text from a late arriver initiated a wrist-disco.
The Chronos offers watch lovers a lot of functionality in a slim package that won’t interfere with the baubles they’re already strapping to their wrists.
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