Long-distance relationships are incredibly difficult. It's much harder to experience things with the person you love, and you end up having to make up for it by keeping each other updated on what's happening in your lives.
Talsam, available on Kickstarter now for $99, may be able to help with that. It's a wearable piece of jewellery that comes with a companion app. Together, they create a private, special one-on-one communication channel between you and your loved one.
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When you send a message – whether it's a video, voice note, text, or what have you – the wearable device will light up and vibrate. The device also has a button that can be used to basically decrypt messages. So if your other half sends you a message and marks it as private, so that no one else could stumble upon it should they have your phone, you just need to tap the button on the device to view it – it's basically two-factor authentication for individual messages.
Finally, there's an SOS mode. You hold down the button on the side for five seconds and your emergency contact will get your location, an SMS and an email telling them you need help. You can also a record a video greeting for your partner that'll play after they set up the device and companion app.
The Talsam was the brainchild of Omar Farha, who came up with the idea after having long-distance relationship with his now-wife for two years. The two of them had made their way to New York City from Dubai, so they were already doing long distance with family and friends, but Farha says it got worse once she moved back.
"You want to kind of want to constantly remind them that you love them and show them that you care, and then after a few months you run out of creative ways for doing that. I've done everything: I've sent flowers, chocolates, I've even done singing telegrams, I've done all sorts of things," he says.
Farha ran out of ideas, and he wasn't a fan of using social media and chat apps to communicate because he didn't feel they were personal enough for intimate conversations. He settled on jewellery as a potential option, and eventually came to combine that with technology.
He took a look at the wearable landscape and found that most wearables were designed as technology first and wearables second, so he and his team decided to flip the script.
They prioritised design, and nearly every part of the Talsam is a nod or a homage to something else. The gold-plated stainless steel frame, semi-precious stone, and Swarovski crystals with white LED lights are designed to look like a romantic Arabian night. The LED lights are even assembled like the Lyra constellation, which in itself has links to a mythical love story. Even the name, Talsam, is a play on the word talisman, which in the Middle East is associated with jewellery that protects you from the evil eye and bad spirits. When you receive a message from your other half, the crystals light up in sequence until they are all lit up, an attempt to mimic a shooting star.
While all those design details are nice, the wearable's function is actually a little more retro: it's like a better designed pager. Farha says that a problem with the way we digitally communicate is that all notifications are equal. A Facebook notification, a WhatsApp message and a breaking news update usually sound or feel the same (unless you go into your phone's settings and customise them).
"Because you know [Talsam is] a dedicated connection, I think that's the biggest thing that makes it stand out," Farha says. "It's one-to-one connection."
The idea is to give your loved one a personal line to you. When your Talsam vibrates, you know it's your partner. The Talsam itself acts as a modern pager while the companion app is where that communication is more fleshed out.
Similarly, the companion app is built to communicate with one person. Yes, that means both of you would have to download an app specifically dedicated to communicating with your partner. All of your partner's messages can be assigned a feeling based on how that message makes you feel. It can be assigned thankful, amused, happy, loved and optimistic. This is supposed to allow you to more quickly access messages that invoke certain emotions. If you're the type of person who will look back on old messages, that is.
Cupid can't answer this question for you, but your heart can. Look, every couple is different. Some long distance couples get really into it, syncing up watching a movie or TV show on Netflix while speaking on the phone or video chat. Others only need a phone call every couple of days.
The first step toward figuring out whether Talsam is for you and your partner is to understand what your needs are. As someone in a long distance relationship, this is not something that would help me. We'd get annoyed at being confined to a dedicated app, especially when our primary communication method is by phone or video chat.
Then there's the fact that Talsam is something you have to wear. If you forget to charge it, which is actually simple to do because it comes with a built in USB-C dongle, that connection is gone.
While the Talsam comes in a number of styles, you're not going to have four of them around to match every outfit either. So if you're really into accessorising, you may have a hard time with this. To Talsam's credit, it can be worn with a number of bracelets, bands and necklaces.
As for the standard set of crowdfunding concerns, Farha says the company has employees who have done this before, and its manufacturers have experience in delivering.
The crowdfunding money will largely be headed toward jewelling the Talsam, though if the company raises well above its goal it'll send a good chunk of that extra money straight to manufacturing. Speaking of manufacturing, Talsam's goal of delivering in February 2019 is loose enough that it has built-in time should anything go wrong.
Long distance is hard, and it can be too easy to be drawn to any little thing that makes the distance feel less painful. If you're a particularly techy couple, or a couple that loves to text a lot, then the Talsam could be cool. It could even be useful as a gift for your mum based on the SOS feature. But if your primary communication method with your partner is voice or video calls, then Talsam might be nothing more than a nice gift.