Fashion forward or faux pas? Behold, the smart ring

Ringly, a stylish smart ring that alerts wearers of calls, texts, and emails, gives a whole new meaning to the idea of being wedded to your tech.

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Ringly

Ringly CEO Christina Mercando wants to bring some of the capabilities of a smartphone into your fingertips. Or rather, around your finger.

The New York start-up on Tuesday unveiled a stylish smart ring that discreetly alerts the wearer of smartphone app notifications, texts or phone calls. It's primarily designed for users -- particularly women -- who often miss their notifications because their large smartphones are packed away in a bag.

Ringly is just one of many companies looking to tap into the rapidly burgeoning wearable technology business, an industry that has lured in big players such as Apple and Samsung, which are investing in fitness technology and smartwatches. Despite the promise of exploding consumer demand, sales of such have been slow and disappointing.

Ringly will have to innovate quickly to set itself apart and maneuver around the tech giants. Fortunately, Mercando has an impressive pedigree in tech. The petite and fresh-faced designer was once a member of a crazy, top-secret eBay team, dubbed "Team 6," who redesigned the e-commerce site's home page while living in an Airbnb penthouse in Australia for two weeks.

The result was a more personalized site and, eBay says, more frequent visits from shoppers. It was a move that let the stagnant company show how a large corporation can innovate quickly.

Mercando hopes that mojo carries over to Ringly, which she believes will change the way people sees wearable devices.

"We see the future of wearables as people buying electronics like they buy clothing," said the now CEO in a meeting with CNET here in San Francisco.

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Ringly co-founders Logan Munro and Christina Mercando Adam Dillon/Ringly

Athletic-focused wearables dominate the nascent market, including products like the soon-to-be defunct Nike Fuel Band, the FitBit line of activity trackers, or Samsung's Gear Fit. But Mercando thinks style is starting to matter as much as the technology, and sees a future where it plays a bigger role in fashion.

Ringly gives users an intimate and fashionable way to keep track of their notifications, according to Mercando.

"We want the tech to feel really discreet, we didn't want to add a screen," she said. Mercando was bit by the tech startup bug after leaving the music industry to join recommendation engine company Hunch, shortly before eBay acquired it in late 2011.

After her time on eBay's Team 6, Mercando decided to strike out on her own. She filed a patent for Ringly in 2012 and left the eBay in 2013. She's always had lots of product ideas, she said, but it wasn't until she thought of one that would solve a daily problem for her personally that she decided to act.

It helped that her mentor, Andreessen Horowitz General Partner and Hunch co-founder Chris Dixon, encouraged her, Mercando said.

Andreessen Horowitz is one of Ringly's investors, although the company has raised only $1 million so far, in a round led by First Round Capital. Ringly is selling the ring, which works with iOS and Android, through its site at a $145 promotional price. Eventually, the price will go up to $195. Ringly has plenty of competition. Other smart jewelry companies already exists, with lines that includes necklaces and bracelets and even one line that includes a ring from another start-up named Fashionteq.

But many of those items are large and chunky. Ringly aims to appeal to fashionistas as well as techies. The Ringly line launches with four sleek styles, all gold-plated bands with different semi-precious, square-shaped stones. In person, the ring looks like a sleek, cocktail ring that belongs in a designer collection, like Kate Spade or Marc Jacobs.

Mercando said the next design will be a silver ring.

The key, she added, was to make the technology, which includes a circuit board and a rechargeable battery, very small.

Mercando knows battery life is important for wearable tech. The ring lasts between two to three days depending the the amount of notifications a user gets and wirelessly charges in an accompanying ring box.

Its accelerometer can tell if the ring is not in motion, allowing it to go into sleep mode. To make sure the ring is working, you can tap your pointer finger and thumb together while wearing it and it should light up.With Ringly, the wearer uses an app to program the combinations of vibrations and subtle lighting to customize each notification. There are four vibration patterns and five colors. The light is a tiny flashing light on the side of the ring.

Currently, Ringly can deliver notifications from some of the most popular apps out there: Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, LinkedIn, Poshmark, Tinder and Uber.

If you travel more than 15 to 20 feet away from your phone and leave it behind by accident, the ring will alert you.

Mercando said there's more features coming that will take advantage of the Ring's size and technology. For example, she wants Ringly to be able to control your smartphone's actions through programed gestures. She thinks creating more functions for the ring is the key to keeping consumers interested.

"We all know that this space is as much about software, as it is hardware," she said.

 

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