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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."

"I'm done talking to you," he said, as he moved to position himself directly in front of my face. His expression had gone from brusque to combative. "Did you hear me? I'm done talking to you."

My accompanying colleagues and I took the unsubtle hint. We left the booth.

Feature lust

Buzi's own reputation isn't buoyed by press reports of his involvement in a real estate dispute in Northern California. Nor does it help that an ardent defender of Starfish, who joined in a Twitter conversation I was having about the company, failed to disclose that he's also friends--at least on Facebook--with the CEO.

"I can tell you a lot more about building houses than I can about building watches," Buzi told me when I eventually reached him by phone this week.

During that phone interview, he acknowledged that the watch isn't actually designed or built by him or his company. Rather, he's starting from an Android-based watch from a Chinese equipment manufacturer which he hopes to customize via software. "We're working with a couple manufacturers in China, and then customizing it to make our own unique watch," he said. On his public Facebook page, Buzi posted late Friday: "Good news: The prototype is here. Bad news: No instructions included and the screen commands are mostly in Chinese. Looks like it would take a Chinese engineer to figure it out. Luckily that's exactly who I'm going to meet with now."

Buzi explained to me that he indeed did use a local San Francisco engineer who was able to tweak the Chinese watch's settings to get it to use English. But the watch that Buzi had shipped from China doesn't offer the Starfish's marquee feature: It's incapable of mirroring an iOS display.

Buzi claims that he showed Mashable a working prototype of a watch that does do AirPlay mirroring--though that prototype requires the use of a separate third piece of hardware, essentially a Wi-Fi base station that the phone and watch both connect to. There's the obvious downside to that prototype, which is the need to lug around a powered base station at all times. What's worse, though, is that connecting the watch and your iPhone to a portable shared Wi-Fi network would seem to effectively prevent your iPhone from accessing the Internet.

"What we focused on originally is AirPlay technology, mirroring technology," Buzi said. "Our initial proof of concept requires that piece of hardware. The plan for the actual watch is sort of to condense that [other hardware] onto the watch." When I asked Buzi about the Internet access issues that would inevitably arise, he stressed that he's not a technical guy--"my background is in real estate development"--and gave me the number of Bob Fullerton, whom he described as his "manufacturing liaison," and who he said had also worked with the Pebble smartwatch team. As of this writing, Fullerton had not yet returned my calls.


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