If you're an enthusiast, you probably skipped over the news that Intel released a fashion accessory/wearable. And with good reason -- the release notes are heavy on the fashion and light on the tech -- but you should perhaps revisit Intel's MICA smart bracelet, because there's a larger story here.
Back at IDF, we dug around to try and suss out what Intel's wearables strategy was going to be. We expected some big announcement about a tiny but powerful platform, which never came, but we learned that Intel was taking a unique two-pronged approach to wearables that included getting its tech into a wide array of mainstream products instead of, for example, trying to make (yet another disappointing) smartwatch.
Intel is partnering with brands and companies outside of the tech world on wearables. The MICA (by fashion company Opening Ceremony) is essentially the first product born from that strategy, and although its launch was aimed more at the fashion crowd than the tech one, the smart bracelet is actually a harbinger of things to come in the world of wearable technology.
First, it's not a particularly powerful wearable, in the sense that it's not a smartphone or PDA strapped to your wrist. The MICA has a small sapphire touchscreen on which you can view text messages, email notifications (with designated "important" Gmail contacts), and Google and Facebook calendar and event notifications.
You get simple vibration alerts, and you can curate a "VIP" list so that you only see notifications from your approved contact list. There's also a TomTom-powered feature called Time To Go (TTG) that tells you how long it will take you to get to your next appointment when you're out running around. Yelp local search is also on board.
Intel said that the MICA also offers remote access and locking, device location, and remote configuration capabilities. The smart bracelet can last up to two days on a single charge, and it offers a micro USB port for charging.
Most interesting is that the MICA is an untethered device, meaning you don't need to pair it with a smartphone. It has its own SoC (the Intel XMM 6321 is on board), although there is no microphone or voice functionality possible.
And that's it in terms of features. But that's because the user doesn't need it to do much more than that. The MICA is a bracelet that happens to have some handy intelligence built in. It's not trying to be the Messiah of wearables, just a product that looks good on your wrist and can help you do some things pertaining to mobile messaging and getting around town.
Another aspect of the MICA that one musn't overlook is the fact that this is one of the few bits of technology that's designed specifically for women but isn't terribly condescending. We've all seen our share of cringe-worthy "for women" tech products ("Here's a tablet that you didn't want, ladies, but now it's available in pink, so..."), but the MICA doesn't strike me as that. Intel provided the technology, but a fashion company actually designed the product.
In fact, an Intel rep told us a funny anecdote about how the Opening Ceremony folks blanched when they first saw the prototype that Intel engineers had built. Needless to say, it looked like a bracelet that, well, engineers had built. The final MICA is very much a product of Opening Ceremony's aesthetic and design, and it's even being carried by Barneys -- not by the retailers you'd normally associate with a wearable smart device.
Whether the MICA can be successful is very much a question mark at this point. Assuming enough women find both the MICA attractive and are interested in the smart capabilities it offers, there's the barrier of price. It will cost you $495, which is a hefty sum for any smart wearable we've come across to date, although we'll allow that part of the markup is because the MICA is in fact a piece of jewelry, after all.
If there's any doubt about the jewelry part, here's a description of the product design, pulled from the official press release:
MICA's cutting-edge design is constructed of premium finishes and 18K gold coating with a curved sapphire glass touch screen display. One style features black water snake skin, pearls from China and lapis stones from Madagascar, while the other style features white water snake skin, tiger's eye from South Africa and obsidian from Russia.
So, yeah, it's a piece of jewelry. However, Intel is easing the price pain a bit by providing two years of AT&T data for any MICA buyers. An Intel representative told us that Intel is actually eating the cost of the data -- it's apparently not just some scratch-my-back deal with AT&T -- although upon conclusion of the two years, customers will have to re-up with AT&T on their own dime if they want to continue with the data plan.
The MICA offers a glimpse into the near future of wearables. As enthusiasts, we've been waiting for that killer smartwatch or for that one company to finally figure out how to make a wearable that we simply must have. That may never happen, actually, but we will see more and more products that we and our family and friends already use equipped with "smart" features. Many of those features will come directly from Intel, and that's frankly an exciting wearables future -- just perhaps not the one we envisioned.