Orion boss: Apple has raised the bar for a more fashion conscious wearable world

We talk to CEO Jesse Robbins about the changing landscape of wearable tech
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Back in 2014, Orion (then known as OnBeep), launched Onyx to the world. Essentially a Star Trek-esque group communicator that you attach to yourself, Onyx taps into an accompanying app to offer group chat sessions on the go.

"We wanted to bring heads-up, real-time communication to everybody," the company's CEO Jesse Robbins explained to us. "The inspiration comes from my background as a firefighter using emergency communication systems."

The premise is simple: you create a group of up to 15 people in an app, give it a name and away you go. You simply tap the button on the Onyx device and speak, with your voice coming out of the speakers of the available group member's devices.

Robbins describes it as a "constellation of devices and people connected together."

The voice functionality works via data, so it doesn't eat up your minutes, and it doesn't matter what network your pals are on or where they are in the world. The app also gives location and availability information.

Robbins told us that, while the launch of OnBeep had been a successful one, the ever changing wearable landscape, and the blurring of the fashion and tech boundaries, meant they couldn't rely on a one-size-fits-all approach.

Fashion is crucial when it comes to mass adoption of wearable devices

"Fashion is crucial when it comes to mass adoption of wearable devices," he said. "It's what consumers expect and it's definitely the key to mass adoption. We realised it's about beautiful designs and making something that people want to wear everyday, and that suits their lifestyle."

Enter Ruby - the San Francisco startup's latest Orion-network device. A lot more svelte and style-conscious than Onyx, Ruby devices pack in precious metals and stones and can be worn much like a brooch.

"If you're going to be build products for people to wear it has to go with their style and lifestyle," Robbins told us.

Announced in February, the Ruby Fall Winter 2015 Collection is inspired by modernist architecture, drawing extensively from the work of Foster, Kahn, and van der Rohe.

Apple anticipation

Orion boss: Apple has raised the bar for a more fashion conscious wearable world

It was a range over a year in the making, with one particularly high-profile wearable launch playing a major part in the device's being.

"Apple has raised the bar for everyone," he told us, referring of course to the recent Apple Watch launch. "We knew the game was going to change.

"A year ago, when we started planning Ruby, we knew it was going to happen, and we knew the bar was going to be this high, so we specifically aimed for fashion conscious people who wear luxury goods. We're not aiming Ruby at typical techy people."

Apple has raised the bar for everyone. We knew the game was going to change

Robbins explained to us that Onyx and Ruby are just the first two devices in long-line of Orion-powered communicators, and that the company is in talks with traditional fashion brands to extend the consumer offering.

"We're looking at a wide variety of devices," he said. "We can't talk about specific brands or labels yet but, once you demonstrate that you 'get it' and you're doing something meaningful, that opens up a lot of doors and those brand conversations happen. We think that, rather than them go their own way, they would be better to use the Orion network."

Orion boss: Apple has raised the bar for a more fashion conscious wearable world

Key to this expansion is the ever-increasing consumer acceptance of the wearable tech genre and, according to the Orion CEO, the high profile arrivals from the traditional tech powerhouses can only serve to enhance the incipient industry.

"People are suddenly aware of wearables as a consumer product," he explained.

"The consumer acceptance and relevance of the category has just catapulted into the forefront and, if you look at technology cycles and patterns of the past few decades, wearables is happening and becoming more relevant much faster than even smartphones did.

"Smartwatches are still extremely early and are, in some ways, challenged. It's going to take a little while for people, including Apple, to find the perfect use cases for them. What's exciting though, because of the competition, Android Wear is getting better a whole lot quicker."

If you like the sound of Onyx or Ruby, check out Orion's website. You can grab an Onyx for $99 and, later this year, the Ruby range will ship - they'll cost from $400.

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Paul Lamkin


Wareable Media Group co-CEO Paul launched Wareable with James Stables in 2014, after working for a variety of the UK's biggest and best consumer tech publications including Pocket-lint, Forbes, Electric Pig, Tech Digest, What Laptop, T3 and has been a judge for the TechRadar Awards. 

Prior to founding Wareable, and subsequently The Ambient, he was the senior editor of MSN Tech and has written for a range of publications.

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