Forget Apple, the Noodoe Watch really wants to be the next Swatch

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“If Apple Watch is Barbie, then Noodoe Watch is Lego,” says John Wang, creator of the Noodoe Watch. The what, we can hear you say? It’s the newest spin on the smartwatch concept, a minimalist wristband which shifts the focus away from features, and towards the things that make us choose certain clothing or jewelry as a way to express our style and personality.

John feels current wearables are missing the mark. It shouldn’t be all about telling time, counting steps, or measuring sleep, yet that’s what the majority of wearable devices do. The Noodoe Watch is all about self-expression and creativity.

“Whatever you create on your phone you can transfer that to your watch.”

“What we are trying to do is something different from the rest of the smartwatch market,” he explains. “Instead of packing in features, we’re looking at wearables from the perspective of what people want. Why do they wear this device on their wrist?”

The Noodoe is being pitched as the opposite of the Apple Watch, which is sure to be one of 2015’s biggest wearable successes, but John isn’t fazed.”With Apple Watch you choose from what they give you and everything has been done perfectly for you. With Noodoe you’re given building blocks and you have to create something yourself.”

There’s an app for that

All this talk of Lego and building blocks may see you picturing some kind of modular Project Ara-style smartwatch, but the design and personalization aspects are all digital, and handled through an Android or iOS app on your smartphone. A simple drag and drop interface allows you to dictate what will appear on the Noodoe. You can mix text and images, or create imaginative alternatives to a traditional watch face, such as dice, playing cards, or a tree that grows new leaves representing hours.

“Whatever you create on your phone you can transfer that to your watch,” explains John, “We want to democratize the programming, so anyone can realize their idea on the Noodoe.”

You can import images created in Paint or Photoshop or make them using a basic editing tool in the app. The programming of the watch functionality is all handled for you, so you can add images and get the effect you want. It’s supposed to be simple enough for people of all ages to use, and making a special design can be done in as little as 30 seconds.

However, there’s another layer to it. A scripting platform called Noodoe Talk enables anyone interested and technically competent enough to dig in a bit deeper and have a go at coding their own functions, further emphasizing the Noodoe’s quest for individuality.

In terms of its ecosystem, the app also serves as a social network/app store. Instead of an app store there’s a “watch cloud”, which is where anyone can upload and share their creations. You can follow people and they can follow you back, a bit like Instagram or Twitter.

What about the hardware?

“The watch is not important, it’s your idea, your creation that should take center stage,” says John, “We actually want to make the watch disappear into the background. It’s supposed to be a blank canvas for you to paint your idea on.”

To that end the Noodoe Watch is an unassuming, black wearable that looks like a thick wrist band. It features a monochrome display with a 32 x 128 pixel resolution and it fades into the device when it’s not illuminated, something John calls “Lumina Skin”. It uses Bluetooth LE to hook up to your smartphone, but it doesn’t need to be connected to your phone all the time in order to work.

There are no buttons, no dials, and no touch functionality. “It’s an entirely new paradigm,” said John, talking about the way we’ll use the watch, “You need to forget about the past and think like there’s no touch at all.” So how do you control the Noodoe Watch? Noodoe’s answer is something called Motion Magic.

It’s fancy marketing speak for gesture controls. The Noodoe’s accelerometer means you have functions like flipping your wrist to reject an incoming call, or to see what’s next on your calendar. It’s a potentially intuitive system and means your other hand is kept free while interacting with the Noodoe.

Features vs self-expression

“The Noodoe owner is someone who thinks, somebody with their own ideas who doesn’t want to wear what the big companies tell them to wear,” John says, “We’re not focused on features. Noodoe is all about self-creation and expressing your individuality.”

“There will be lots of competitors for Apple Watch and probably all of them are going to lose.”

He sees the Noodoe as part of the wider watch market with the potential to be worn like jewelry, because people can create their own unique designs. If the Apple Watch is at the features end along with Samsung and Pebble, then Noodoe is at the self-expression end. Not so much like Chanel or other expensive brands, but more like Swatch.

John has an impressive background. He joined HTC when it still made mobile devices for other companies, and founded Magic Labs, the name given to HTC’s innovation division where the original HTC Dream Android phone was born. Serving as HTC’s chief marketing officer, he helped build the company into the global brand it is today, before leaving in 2011.

“There will be lots of competitors for Apple Watch and probably all of them are going to lose,” says John, “We don’t want to compete with Apple. We are doing the 21st century Swatch.”

“People often don’t wear a watch to tell the time anymore, it’s a piece of body real estate for self-expression.”

He is at pains to point out that the Noodoe is about self-expression rather than features, but it can still handle the basics you’d expect from a smartwatch. It can tell you when there’s an incoming call or a new message, and give you a weather update or a calendar reminder. There is vibration alert built-in, and a flip of the wrist will silence it.

The minimalist approach

There are obvious advantages to limiting the functionality of the Noodoe Watch and avoiding the specs war.

For one thing we can expect the battery to last a lot longer than a single day before needing a charge. The wearable runs its own lightweight OS, and with limited features the power demands are tiny. You may even get by with a weekly charge.

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The Noodoe Watch will also be affordable. John expects it be sold worldwide for less than $100.

It’s set to hit the market 60 days after the Apple Watch, so we’re expecting to see it land in June this year. Is there enough substance behind the marketing spin to attract an audience? Do features and self-expression have to be mutually exclusive? Noodoe obviously thinks it’s on to a winner, and we’ve been promised a hands-on, so we’ll find out soon.

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