Ringly CEO: Keep smart jewellery simple with no screens or steps

Christina Mercando talks upcoming features, app updates and smart bracelets
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Smartwatches are shouty. They get over-the-top launches from tech companies as big as Apple. Spots on billboards and buses. They're waging wars on each other. Having spec scraps.

Smart rings, bracelets and pendants, on the other hand, are quietly confident. Patiently going through beta testing. Selling in online fashion e-tailers. Having features honed based on customer feedback.

That doesn't mean we should ignore smart jewellery, least of all Christina Mercando's wearable tech startup Ringly. It makes a semi-precious smart ring for iOS and Android which vibrates and lights up a small LED when you get alerts. Ringly is fast becoming the Apple of the smart jewellery space and now there's nothing stopping it thanks to $5.1m of investment announced this January. Now you're listening.

What's next for Ringly

Ringly CEO: Keep smart jewellery simple with no screens or steps

Ringly's CEO and cofounder is a UX designer by trade. Mercando puts the success of the company's first product, launched last June with all but a "few hundred" of the launch pre-orders shipped and a new 'Dive Bar' style now available, down to focusing on fashion first and honouring the mission of keeping things simple.

Our mission is to make technology disappear

"We decided to use no screws, no plastics, no buttons, no USB ports," Mercando told Wareable. "It looks like a ring and with it sitting next to another cocktail ring, you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. That's part of the magic of what we do. It's a really difficult design challenge to make the technology disappear."

The cofounder hinted at this year's SXSW that more Ringly functions were coming including interacting with smart homes. With the fresh injection of funding, Mercando and her team of designers, engineers and machine learning experts, are working on new wearables for 2016 with more features and in a new jewellery category.

"We're working on new functionality in the ring," she said, "both in terms of payments and keyless entry but also around how we can interact more with our environment.

"We're also working on bracelets. I don't want it to be modular in the sense that you swap out a plastic part. We're very, very integrated so [the bracelet] would just be modular in the sense that you can maybe change the band or dress it up a little bit."

Let's use tech to stop looking at screens

Ringly CEO: Keep smart jewellery simple with no screens or steps

Everything we see from Ringly in the next 12 months will fit into the company's ethos of "alleviating a lot of the frustrations in our lives". Many of Ringly's customers, particularly older women, are looking to disconnect from everything apart from what really matters. That means that Mercando and her team have certain features they are steering clear of.

Read this: Semi precious - the best smart jewellery

"We have an accelerometer so we could add step tracking if we wanted," she explained. "But it's not our brand and it's not our mission. We're all about solving problems, I don't want to add functionality just to add functionality.

"One of the things we don't want to add is a screen. For us it's more about - how can I get the most relevant information without it being distracting or disrupting what I'm doing. That's the opposite of a screen. Let's use technology to make us stop looking at screens. It's distracting. There's a place for it but for people who want to be a little more stylish and discreet, there needs to be an alternative."

That alternative is haptic technology which is being used in interesting ways by companies as diverse as Apple (via the Watch's Taptic Engine) and Wearable Experiments with its haptic-enabled Navigate jacket.

Mercando likens the vibration motor in her smart ring to a personal assistant tapping you on the shoulder to remind you that you have a meeting coming up or that your Uber is arriving. Beyond that,"it makes you feel like a secret agent, you know what's happening but no-one else does."

Right now Ringly can be set to buzz once, twice, three times or four times depending on the app as well as a separate pattern for when you stray too far from your smartphone.

"I'd like to study more about how many the human brain can actually remember," said Mercando. "You do start to remember over time but it does take some training to get you there. We tried to limit the number you can set. Changing the vibration strength isn't in the current hardware but again it's something we're looking into. I find with the Apple Watch that sometimes it's so light you miss it."

The Ringly Woman

WareableRingly CEO: Keep smart jewellery simple with no screens or steps

Ringly set out to appeal to 25 to 35 year-old, professional women in the US, and it has succeeded with 50% of its customers falling into this age range. Ringly is also seeing sales do well in the UK, Australia, Canada and Japan and amongst older women looking to disconnect in style. The startup, set up in 2013, has learned a lot about how women are using - and want to use - smart jewellery since the launch.

Read this: Altruis digital detox smart jewellery review

It's easy for us to add new apps to Ringly

"We make our products so that you can set it up however you want to be notified," said Mercando. "We see spikes during the weekends, I guess people are putting it on when they go out and they're not stuck at their desks. The most common apps are phone calls, text messages, email and calendar alerts but there's a pretty big range that people use. We also get requests all the time for new apps to add.

"Some of the apps are ones that we didn't consider when we first launched - there's a lot around parenting. There's apps with names like FeedBaby which tells you when you need to feed your baby so more of these important reminder apps. There was one woman, she works for a PR agency, super busy, and her daughter has diabetes. And she said - 'Oh my god, I would love to use it with an app that reminds me when my daughter will be getting low and needs to eat. That's the only notification I would get. I would love to have that'."

Mercando says it's easy for her team to add Ringly support for apps, which its users request and that once a request comes in it will usually be in the next app update. "We have a new update coming very soon where we've added 20 or 30 apps. Only the apps you have installed on your phone will show in the Ringly app so you won't see everything, you'll only see the ones that you have."

A wearable for every occasion

Ringly CEO: Keep smart jewellery simple with no screens or steps

Alongside the incoming app updates, Ringly has just announced that it will be stocked in MoMa stores from this autumn alongside other retailers which haven't been revealed yet.

Mercando, who namechecks inspirations as diverse as fashion house Maiyet, jewellery label Jemma Wynne and - of course - the user experience genius of Apple, wants to see more wearables properly designed for women.

"Let's start not just designing the physical devices differently for women but also designing the functionality differently," she said. "In the very near future I think all of us will be shopping for electronic devices the way we shop for clothes. Take shoes - you might put your rain boots on when it's raining, you might wear your sneakers to the gym or your heels to a cocktail party.

"Wearables will take a very similar form and shape. You might wear your Ringly when you go to a cocktail party or your fitness tracker when you go to the gym. It's exciting. You'll be putting on devices the way you put on clothes."

How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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