The fashion set got its first look at the "MICA" smart bracelet Opening Ceremony designed with Intel during the label's spring 2015 show in September. But those were just working prototypes. So in advance of the bangle's retail drop at Barneys and Opening Ceremony in early December, the two teams held a launch event on Monday afternoon to dive into the device's functionality, and more interestingly, market positioning.
Unlike wearable devices that lead with the tech and let style follow in its wake, the bracelet was designed to truly hold up against other fashion accessories. Literally. Barneys and Opening Ceremony plan to display the MICA device alongside other pieces of jewelry, which means a few things. One, it had to be good enough on the design front to compete with its neighbors, and two, the target customer is not an out-and-out technophile, but rather a woman who would be shopping in the jewelry section of Barneys anyway.
"At Barneys and Opening Ceremony, you're going to see it merchandised with jewelry and in a way that the item will catch your attention," Opening Ceremony's Carol Lim says. "That nuance in how it's marketed is what sets us apart. This is really something you might buy because of the way it looks."
Of course, it's an accessory with the added bonus of text messaging, Gmail and Facebook notifications and local recommendations via Yelp. As Lim points out, the device isn't meant to be a replacement for a cell phone, so the team kept the functionality quite limited. The bracelet doesn't pair with the user's cell — it has a SIM card with its own dialing number — meaning it will only receive messages from an approved list of "VIPs."
The functionality, in a way, is that it lets the wearer walk away from her cell phone and its accompanying barrage of notifications and only receive the most important ones. Is the babysitter running late? Do I have a meeting in 10 minutes?
The focus on fashion also meant that the Intel team had to make certain compromises. But according to Intel's New Devices Group vice president Ayse Ildeniz, the point of the project was to take an accessory and make it smart. Not the other way around.
"When we started our early talks, Opening Ceremony asked for something that was fully made from metal all the way around," says Ildeniz. "Our bracelet has a radio inside. It can communicate on its own, but metal would block that, so we’re like, 'Uh oh, that’s a problem.' So we got together to work on a design that looks like a metal but was not metal."
The Opening Ceremony team also pushed hard for a curved screen that sits unobtrusively on the bottom side of the bangle, which is significantly trickier to build than a flat screen. There was even a discussion about how curved the bracelet itself should be.
"We like flat surfaces. The flatter, the easier to cram in electronics. The bracelet was pretty rectangular that we gave them [originally]," Ildeniz says. "The eventual outcome is that it’s very round, and it’s a true bracelet that wraps around your wrist."
Priced at $495, the bracelet is surprisingly accessible. According to Leon, that's the same price point as any other accessory comprising semi-precious stones and metals. So for women who don't already own a wearable device but do buy accessories at that price point, it might be enough to make them think: "Why not?"