Gadgets

Ozon gesture ring concept from 16Lab lets you wrap all your devices around your little finger

The gesture-tracking, wireless-charging, Bluetooth-connecting Ozon ring from 16Lab is back, smaller and smarter than ever.

TOKYO -- As our devices shift and shrink and we find ourselves relying less and less on keyboards and mice and more and more on touchscreens to go about our work and play. In some situations, this makes interactivity a challenge. Voice is a potential solution for some situations, but gesture control looks equally promising and 16Lab has what it thinks is the solution.

It's called the Ozon and this is the second time I've had the chance to slip it on my finger. Last year, at the 2014 edition of CEATEC (Japan's biggest consumer electronics show) I sampled an early concept of the ring and now, ahead of CEATEC 2015, I've been given the opportunity to try a new and improved model. A much thinner, much lighter model that's packed with more functionality than before.

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A Bluetooth ring that connects to all your devices. Tim Stevens/CNET

Still a concept, Ozon is a titanium ring that connects to any device via Bluetooth, pairing quickly and easily via NFC. It has a small touchpad on the top, which can be used by your thumb, and a small vibration motor within for delivering notifications and haptic feedback. It charges wirelessly and, despite the tiny battery, should last two days on a charge for most users.

Once connected, Ozon acts like a standard Human Input Device, or HID. This means that, to the system, it looks just like a mouse and a keyboard, not requiring any special software to work. So, it can connect to Android devices, iOS devices, Macs and Windows PCs. It'll even work with Windows Phone.

Tõnu Samuel is CTO of 16Lab, and he believes the "open" nature of Ozon is an important part of its appeal. Other gesture rings that have hit the market require special software to work. This is a major drawback, he says. "Take the ring and it should work right out of the box."

What happens next, however, is the tricky part. You can use Ozon to move a cursor around on a screen like a mouse, and you can even do things like input letters and spell words. But, capability and desire are two different things. "People don't want to do this in public," Samuel says, waving his arms around dramatically. Instead, the focus is on smaller, more subtle gestures.

He uses the current unlock gesture of the ring as a clue. The ring isn't always transmitting your motions, you need to press your thumb on the top and then twist your hand to the right. It's just like turning a key to start a car. Samuel says you could do something like this to control a television set, turn right then move up and down slightly to adjust volume, turn left and do the same to change channels. "These will become intuitive."

Tim Stevens/CNET

Another possible use-case is pairing the ring with another popular wearable: the Apple Watch. "The Apple Watch is a two-handed device at the moment. You cannot use it with one hand." Indeed, while only one hand actually controls the watch, the other is rather occupied with the task of wearing the thing. Slip on Ozon, however, and you could theoretically scroll through notifications on your watch without setting down your latte.

Samuel says it's still too early to guess at a retail price for Ozon, but his early estimates put this in the realm of several hundreds of dollars -- perhaps even approaching the cost of an Apple Watch Sport thanks to the highly specialized components within. ("Everything is from Japan," Samuel points out proudly.) Without a killer app it's unlikely that consumers would pay that much for such a device, which is why 16Lab is targeting another path to retail: luxury brands.

While Samuel won't name names, he indicates that a number of high-end makers of luxury products are interested in licensing the Ozon tech -- companies that already make rings and pendants and watches expensive enough that adding another $400 to their cost won't even register.

Samuel does say, however, that both Toyota and Yamaha Motor Company have developers looking at the ring, which gets me rather excited about the prospect of a next-generation smart key for your car that you can wear on your finger and use to change channels on the radio without taking your hands of the wheel.

The Ozon ring has shrunk tremendously since last year's concept. Tim Stevens/CNET

Again, Ozon is still a concept, and Samuel points to the failure of early gesture rings like Logbar as an example of companies shipping before the product is ready. "If it's not perfect we don't sell it," he says, so don't except to get sized for this ring any time soon.