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Starfish smartwatch saga illustrates entrepreneurial stumbling blocks

Lex Friedman | Feb. 6, 2013
One of the booths I was eager to see at this year's Macworld/iWorld was that of a company I'd never heard of and a product I'd never seen. I first learned of Starfish from the company's advertisement in the current issue of Macworld magazine; that ad touts: "The next biggest thing is the next smallest thing: The world's first ever interactive iPhone and iPad mirroring device on your wrist."

One of the booths I was eager to see at this year's Macworld/iWorld was that of a company I'd never heard of and a product I'd never seen. I first learned of Starfish from the company's advertisement in the current issue of Macworld magazine; that ad touts: "The next biggest thing is the next smallest thing: The world's first ever interactive iPhone and iPad mirroring device on your wrist."

Depicted in the ad is a square-shaped wristwatch with a blue band; the screen displays an incoming iOS phone call, with the familiar Decline and Answer buttons.

It was certainly an eye-catching ad. But it also raised more than a few questions.

Namely, how could the device mirror an iOS screen? Did it work via Apple's own AirPlay mirroring? I know of a few Mac apps (such as Reflector) that can pull that off, and I know that the Apple TV can do it, but how could one possibly fit AirPlay video capabilities into a watch form-factor? And wouldn't AirPlay require an omnipresent Wi-Fi connection between your iOS device and the watch?

What's more, the photo in the advertisement appears to defy my own understanding of how such a wristwatch could work: The interface is clearly not just scaled but reszied to fit the watch's square display; it doesn't match the aspect ratio of either the iPhone 5's display or that of earlier iPhone models--it looks closer to the sixth-generation iPod nano than anything else. And assuming the AirPlay connection did work and the interface could be resized as shown in the ad, how could the watch be interactive?

I wanted to believe, to understand. So I went to see the device in person on the Macworld/iWorld show floor last week. The visit didn't produce many answers; instead, I just wound up with even more questions.

This booth ain't made for talkin'

On Thursday morning when the show floor opened, Starfish's booth was completely empty--no product, no marketing materials, not even any people. That's rarely a good sign. Empty booths are not uncommon toward the end of the show, as one-person development teams decide they've spent enough time at trade shows and need to get back to programming. But this is the first time I can recall seeing an empty booth as Macworld/iWorld opened its doors.

Come Friday, various permutations of representatives appeared at the booth intermittently. The folks who staffed the booth--and occasionally abandoned it--told visitors, including Macworld editors, that the watches were on a truck headed toward Moscone West and Macworld/iWorld, and that a demo unit would be available at the show on Saturday. I asked how the thing worked, and was told that I could talk to the company's CEO about that on Saturday.

 

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