Olio Devices CEO: How Apple, Google and Samsung are getting wearables wrong

We talk luxe connected watches and personal assistants with Olio's founder
Olio CEO: Style and quality matter

"Apple is a computer company. Google is an advertising company, Samsung is a vertically integrated manufacturing company. Jawbone does a great job creating new product spaces and then they kind of get kicked out of them. Pebble is a maker software company but where are they going to go when Samsung starts ramping up its manufacturing and competing at the same price points as Pebble?"

It's easy to see why Steve Jacobs, founder and CEO of Olio Devices, has just closed a $10.2 million round of investment for his luxury watch company.

He's convincing. If we had $10 million, we would probably have thrown it at him by the end of our interview about Olio's progress on its first smartwatch, the Model One, and the new gold and rose gold-clad collections announced today.

Style, quality and brand

The product designer and engineer ticks off high profile devices he has developed, at agencies and during a stint at HP, as well as companies that he's worked with, which reads like a who's who of Silicon Valley. So why go it alone? Two years ago, none of the world's biggest tech brands seemed like the right fit for Jacobs' particular vision of what wearable tech should be.

We don't consider ourselves a wearable tech company

"I decided that none of these big companies really had the right core DNA, the core chemistry, to be what I would consider to be a meaningful player," he told Wareable. Not that he sees Olio Devices, which he co-founded with Evan Wilson and AJ Cooper in San Francisco in 2013 and now boasts hires from Movado, Pixar, Apple and Google, as a wearable tech company.

"That's along the lines of why people buy watches to begin with - which is style, quality and brand. We don't consider ourselves a tech company at all. And we typically don't want to refer to ourselves as wearable. To be honest, we see ourself as a connected devices company."

Throughout our chat, Jacobs picks apart the various failings of his tech giant rivals in the early attempts at creating desirable, useful wearables. An Olio Devices Crash Course on Smartwatches emerges.

The one size fits all approach won't work in the long term, even for Apple.

"They built their name on this MacBook Pro, for example, which looks just as appropriate in a dorm room as it does in a boardroom," he said. "When you think about fashion, that's almost the exact opposite of what you'd want. You don't want the CEO of some company to be sporting the same watch as some frat boy in college. You want that differentiation. And it might be the same person separated by 15 or 20 years but that person wants to express something unique about themselves at different phases of their lives."

At the other end of spectrum, an open platform like Google's Android Wear, which includes its contextual assistant Google Now, is trying to serve us ads and get us to buy products whereas Olio Assist, its assistant, only wants to save us time.

"We're not an advertising company like Google. We are solely focused on what is going to make the most difference in our wearer's lives. For us, it's no difference whether you like it or don't like it. You can do whatever you want. And that's something that's kind of unique to us.

"I hate to throw Google under the bus but everyone is starting to get at this point that they are an advertising company at their core. So their interests are not always purely aligned with that of our consumer."

Beautiful, upgradeable, helpful

In fact the only company that makes Jacobs go quiet is the mention of Tag Heuer's first smartwatch due to launch later this year for $1,200. That's right in the price range Olio Devices is aiming at with its Model One collections which are priced between $595 and $1,395 depending on which material and strap you choose.

There's memories captured in the exterior of the watch

He talked of a gap between the $1,000 price point and the $10,000 price point in smartwatches right now - Apple of course has reportedly cornered both at this early stage. All Jacobs has to offer on Tag entering the luxury smartwatch space is: "we'll see." Something tells us that despite Tag choosing Android Wear, Jacobs sees its first smartwatch as one of the first products that might actually do things in what he refers to as a "meaningful way." As for the rest of Android Wear, he sees no competition from Samsung, Sony and Motorola above $500.

Buyer's guide: How to choose the right smartwatch

So we know what wearable tech shouldn't be - non-threatening but non personal in design like Apple, trying to serve us ads like Google - but what should it be? Olio Devices is building smartwatches that hope to be beautiful - in a bold way - upgradeable, and helpful, primarily in saving us time.

The luxury materials, bespoke UIs for each collection and limited edition releases of the Model One so far speaks to Olio's understanding of fashion as self expression. The components, including the custom battery, have been built both to last five years, instead of one or two, and to be an upgradeable core that can be serviced every two to five years.

"We wanted to make sure that the aesthetic part of the watch, the outside of the case, which is going to show that scratch from when you got a little too tipsy at that birthday party, remains," said Jacobs.

"There's memories captured in the exterior of the watch. The insides need to be serviced and we wanted to do that in the same way that the traditional Swiss watch industry has for centuries. We can replace the core electronics with the latest and greatest so you always feel that your watch is functioning at the peak of its ability. But at the same time, you're maintaining the stories which go along with the outside of your watch."

And Olio Assist, its cloud-based personal assistant, which can tap into Siri and Google Now, is a pared back service which learns your preferences and can be micro-managed to suit your schedule.

This software, which will, of course, be upgraded over the air, is really a chance for Olio Devices to show that it understands how we want smartwatches to fit into our lives. There's a timeline of alerts and bits of info Assist thinks you will be interested in, split into past and future Streams. And since it is "significantly more focused" than Google Now, Jacobs believes that it is more useful as a virtual assistant.

"Say you walk to work on a beautiful, sunny day in New York," he said. "Right when you're about to leave, Olio Assist will say: 'Hey, I noticed you walked to work today but it's probably going to rain when you walk home, I looked around and Uber is a little bit less expensive than Lyft, do you want me to call you an Uber so you don't get caught in the rain?' That's truly a useful question for a personal assistant to ask. But if it asks you ten times and every single time you say no then get the hint buddy, listen to what I'm saying and stop suggesting that for me."

Model Two will be a choice, not must-have

Jacobs mentioned a Model Two, which Olio is hoping to launch in 2016, but only to say that it won't make the Model One obsolete and instead of being a replacement, as a consumer electronics company would market it, it will simply broaden the variety of sizes, styles and materials.

"What we're focused on is offering a wider variety of styles so you can choose the one that is just the perfect fit for you," he said. "It will be no surprise to anyone that we're looking at - how do we make a core architecture that is able to deliver the same level of functionality and the same level of battery life and user experience in a smaller form factor? Or using other, more sophisticated materials, or to allow for other design languages. That's really what we continue to experiment and develop."

As for the next few months, Jacobs noted that Olio will probably begin to sell its watch bands separately around the time the Model One (should) ship in September. Right now, the bespoke watch faces can't be swapped out but this is another feature that the founder isn't ruling out for the future.

Wareable verdict: Mondaine Helvetica 1 Smart review

As for apps, Uber and Spotify were listed as some of the big names that will be displayed on Olio Model Ones by the end of the year and though we don't get any details, Jacobs is excited about some specialised third party app functionality that the company is now dedicated resources to. Quality will trump quantity, though.

"We think when a service is relevant and useful to you, it should be very quickly and easily accessible to you and you shouldn't have to look through a bunch of other shit to find it. Simple as that."

19 Comments

  • Oliofolio says:

    Guys/girls,

    I was one of the very first (only because Olio told me) purchasers in April of this year of their Batch One watch (device is an insult to the metal it's clothed in!). I & my daughter (who the watch was ordered for her 21st b'day) had & have followed all the reviews, high-end advertising & fawning comments from so called "experts" of this highly anticipated product.

    The paperweight was received, used & returned as a paperweight within the first week of being delivered (sent back 18 Nov. '15) We believe we were the first in the UK to receive an Olio device. We (me mainly) had bragged, blabbed, exaggerated, annoyed, cajoled, laughed at, had verbal fights over, lost temporary sight of our senses & finally been forced into an uncompromising submission, surrender, hands-up & white flag waving ceremony, when we realised the watch, device, paperweight, con, utter fraudulent use of the word "timepiece" simply didn't work.

    Hats off to "Team Olio" - you didn't have much time to raise the public awareness & potential finesse of your idea - but you certainly name-dropped your so called pedigree's, backgrounds & supposed tech savvy/skills to catapult Olio into the public domain of rabid want for something a bit left field & from the shelf you wouldn't perhaps look at (if I pick this up, will I be lauded or laughed at - oh how I was laughed at...!!!!).

    Trust my daughter (& now apoplectic father) that this paperweight is an utter sham. Straight out of the box it is a striking piece of something, but not a watch, not a smart thing, not a device, not nothin... It went on strike (perhaps it felt some solidarity or affiliation having arrived in the UK as a "guest")  & on strike it stayed. There was the occasional raising of hope & sudden rush of "we've got this sussed so we're all saved" moment, but true to most strikes form, it was short lived & it wasn't even back to the long drawn out nights of potential reform & negotiation, for this piece of work  there was no compromise, so stay on strike it did until it was eventually piled into a box & shipped back to Olio for them to take the well deserved flak. We had given it our best shot, but my daughter (& I) have no stiff upper lip when it comes to being sold down the river by clever words & utter unrealistic aims & claims in what could have been...(but never was or will be).

    I wish all you current (& future) Olio "device" owners all the best for the future, but it's simply not for us...

    • Oliofolio says:

      Guys/girls,

      Minor update. The watch was returned to Olio (via personal expense from the UK - no offer of help from Olio). I'm in my third week now & have yet to receive a refund after many email exchanges & FB enquiries. What's even more galling, is their continuing attempt at a slick advertising campaign for this thing & still making the same promises they made prior to this watch hitting the public domain, where it is now getting (on an hourly basis) slammed on their FB page for being such an utterly useless piece of, well, I'm sure can you get the gist. If any of you out there are contemplating buying one of these, head to their FB page & digest what you read before deciding to purchase one of these. A sun dial in your garden is far more advanced...

      • Oliofolio says:

        Guess what?? STILL no refund from Olio. Was promised a full return of my monies by 23rd December. Nothing. Have emailed them via their customer support page & had a rant on their FB page. Nothing. The whole Olio "experience" is an utter sham/scam/fraud...

        • Oliofolio says:

          My New Year's resolution of remaining calm when faced with uncompromising stupidity & outright incompetenc have, not surprisingly, fallen over the cliff. I'm STILL waiting for a refund from Olio. My iPad has taken the brunt of my frustration when emailing/FBing this "company". They have lied, broken promises & have now withdrawn & don't allow truthful & yes, extremely damning reviews to be posted on their FB page. It's now filled with generic, expensive looking photoshoots of pretty people wearing their piece of metal. PLEASE, any potential customer out there, do not get sucked into their pretentious campaign of selling this thing as the next best thing since life bega. You WILL be eternally kicking yourself for doing so... Utter garbage.

          • Sunday71 says:

            I am weary and worn out just reading all of your shit!!!

  • MusicMan says:

    The Olio is a joke.    Being a batch one purchaser it is obvious from the Olio Facebook page, (now moved to a support page "closed group") that the watch, although in a beautiful case, is a sheer disaster.   With run times ranging from 3 to 12 hours at best,  most people have watches that barely function, let alone have watches that even keep accurate time.   (Mine lags by several minutes a day.).    The watch was not ready for sale when they started shipping and is likely not to be able to accomplish its promised offerings for a long, long time.   Forget any voice commands, the required smartwatch app doesn't handle it yet.   It doesn't learn your daily routine.   All it can do right now is filter a few messages.    Any Apple or Google based watch can run rings around this watch.   Tag is making a brilliant move by using Wear as the operating system.   The Olio system is a poorly designed mess that may never function as intended.   Huawei and Moto offer watches that can be equally beautiful and actually work!

    • s.charara says:

      Interesting, we are still waiting for our review sample which Olio's team says isn't ready yet. We'll let you know when we finally test it. 

      • MusicMan says:

        Of course its not ready yet...more proof of the untruths that CEO Jacobs keep spouting.   If there were only a few of us that had received "defective" watches, then they should have made it a priority to replace them with fully working ones.   Take a close look at the features on the Olio webpage and once you get the watch, see how many of them actually work.  And you should access the support Facebook page to see the pictures of what people are getting on their watches.    If your watch actually works, it will be probably the CEO's own personal custom watch.    Sorry for the cynicism but I am appalled as a dozens of others who took the chance.

  • jetspeed8 says:

    I got my Olio seven days ago and it barely functioned and would not even recognize me.  It would not do any update to the newest version of the software.  Bluetooth kept falling off and my phone could never find it again.  Yesterday it turned itself into a brick and would not even recognize the charger anymore.  I have a been trying to get an RMA to return it and can't even get a response out of support...  

  • jetspeed8 says:

    I got my Olio seven days ago and it barely functioned and would not even recognize me. It would not do any update to the newest version of the software. Bluetooth kept falling off and my phone could never find it again. Yesterday it turned itself into a brick and would not even recognize the charger anymore. I have a been trying to get an RMA to return it and can't even get a response out of support...

  • Terrible says:

    The company is an absolute joke.  Batch One customers are still suffering with a watch that doesn't work.   The company has an "intention" to fix things, which is fine.   But honestly, to continue to sell a product to batch two customers, batch three customers, etc.?  It's just beyond unethical at this point.   Price points are $600-$1,400 and the company knows 100% that the product is currently non-functional.  

    • DigitalBorealis says:

      I returned it.. If you are charging premium, they need to make sure that software or basic watch is flawless. I was looking stupid to flip my wrist to check the time and "Time Piece" would not even lit up :)

  • DigitalBorealis says:

    If I am just paying to see information from one device (iPhone) on another (Olio) via bluetooth, it is not worth it. Device Operating system is poor. Device did not wake up when I wanted to see the MOST basic thing expected out of watch, i.e Time.... Trust me I literally flipped my wrist 10 times in a row just to see what time it was and this "Time Piece" would not respond.... Aesthetically, it looks nice but needs a lot of work, probably more than what user can get out of their phones... I returned the watch within 4 days of struggle and received full refund. Thanks 

  • MarieMorgan says:

    I received my Olio about 5 months ago as a gift and I must say, the most recent software is a HUGE improvement! The team is doing great to improve some of the more major issues and the watch is easily my new favorite timepiece, I have not even touched my other watches in months! I will admit the launch was a bit rocky, but hey, it was a launch and the team is really pulling through by improving what is important to what we, the Olio customers, care about. I recommend this watch to everyone, it is so stylish and practical, I absolutely love it and I know that it is only going to get better!

  • portugee77 says:

    So I have read all the reviews about the watch and most of them were December and January and only one in March of this year. I really like the way it looks and want to believe that new update has improved the stability and response time of the watch. Anyone that has one and had updated it to the latest update and are paring it with an iPhone give me some feedback I would be much appreciated.

    I will check the thread again to see if there are any updates

    Thanks in advance...

    • joel86 says:

      I was an early customer too (Batch Two), and received my watch in early December. I have to agree, in the beginning it was far from perfect. Bluetooth kept dropping, and battery life was abysmal. I was thinking of returning, but for whatever reason I decided to wait it out. Definitely glad I did. After the last watch and app updates everything is much more stable. I'm now wearing the watch everyday without many issues, and it gets through the whole day. Every few days I have to manually toggle Bluetooth to get it to connect, but I'm confident the Olio team is working to fix any remaining bugs. I definitely like that the Olio is keeping it simple rather than trying to replace my phone, and it's a beautiful watch.

  • DONALDLANCEMAN says:

    I've been an olio customer since day one. When i heard they were releasing a smart watch that stayed in tune with the style and looks of a real watch I was ecstatic. Unfortunately as some of these reviews have stated, at launch the watch was in disarray. Even through the rough patches, I have stuck with it, because unlike other smart watches these guys understand what it is about a watch that makes people want to wear them. The style, the classic feel, the ability to know what place a watch should play( I'm very much against watches that try to replace a phones utility) And I am glad I did. There is still room for improvement, but the product is light years better than where it was at launch. The gestures are much smoother and intuitive, The watch stays connected much easier and repairs on its own. Battery life is still lower than I would like, but it gets me through the day and is getting better every update. I was taught good things come to those who wait and in this case, it's definitely true.

  • DarkKnight says:

    I've had my Olio for several months now.  Yes, it did have quite a rocky start, but I've bit my tongue and ignored my early frustration, understanding that this company was the new kid on the block, fighting juggernauts like Google and Apple... mind you with a MUCH better looking device.  Anyone that tells you those other watches look as good as this, they're lying.  Just go to the stores that carry Olio (like Nordstrom) and look for yourself.  I have a black one with black link, and it's simply gorgeous.  It feels like a real, elegant, higher-end watch... not a toy.  The typical Android Wear watches and Apples look downright cheap in comparison.

    Having said that, hardware is not the issue...I almost hesitated to buy mine when I saw reviews like the ones from December and January.  But I took a chance, and was very patient... and it's paying off.  The watch (and phone app) have come a LONG way.  Time, notifications, weather... everything is much more reliable.  Battery life keeps getting better.  I'm an Android user and appreciate the "streamlined-ness" (if that's a word) of the watch features and app.  I don't need a watch that tries to squeeze my phone's features into a 2-inch circle (or square).

    My wife recently purchased one of the "higher-end" Android Wear watches, and I know several in my extended family and friends circle that have had an Apple Watch for a while... my wife looked at how easy it was to setup my Olio and almost returned her Huawei (it was frustratingly complicated and unreliable, and features randomly stop working).  She kept it only because it's a bit more feminine of a watch and most features work fine. As for the Apple Watch folks in my circles... they're almost bald (figuratively speaking)... so overly complicated and redundant that they're constantly complaining about it.  Why haven't they returned them?  Well, you know, they're fan... oh no, let's not go there!

  • CannikinCove says:

    I got my Olio gold watch a few weeks ago from Nordstrom in Valley Fair, CA.  It's been working great for me and the battery life is at least 10 hours.  Maybe I'm the lucky one or maybe Olio has already fixed the bugs from early leases....???

    For a small startup, Olio is going up against all the big brands in the industry and that takes courage, determination, ingenuity 

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