Generally, the more Star Trek that enters my life on a daily basis, the happier I am. That said, I’m still a bit skeptical after reading the news that a company called OnBeep had raised $6.35 million in funding to bring a working Star Trek communicator-style wearable to reality.
According to a post on GeekWire, the San Francisco-based startup is working on a wearable device that connects groups of people for easy, instant communication with the touch of a button. The device, also called OnBeep, is meant to eliminate the hassle of looking down at a smartphone for mass communication. Meanwhile, the device will still need to connect to a smartphone to work.
Avalon Ventures’ Rich Levandov, who led the series A investment round, offered a statement on the OnBeep’s potential:
“There are countless mobile messaging apps, and none of them give people a way to stay connected to each other without having to look down at their smartphone. We backed OnBeep because we believe they will fundamentally change the way the world communicates.”
On the face of things, the OnBeep sounds like a Trekker’s dream come true. Furthermore, given the voice-recognition capabilities of today’s smartphones – from Google Now, to Apple’s Siri, and to Microsoft’s Cortana – it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to imagine OnBeep actually working pretty well.
Regarding security, Google announced at I/O this summer that Android L will allow for immediate smartphone unlocking if the device detects a registered Android Wear device; a similar feature could conceivably show up in OnBeep. Just speculating here, but if an OnBeep is separated from the user, it may not function if it’s too far from its associated smartphone.
However, one has to wonder whether or not this device will really do much to solve, well, anything. As it stands, most people don’t seem to have any trouble looking down at their smartphones – in fact, if you look at people roaming the streets on any given day, you might even think they prefer it. Furthermore, the current wave of wearables in the form of smartwatches seems like it will provide much the same function that the OnBeep promises: allowing for communication without having to pull out a smartphone. Android Wear, for instance, allows users to simply tell Google Now who to send messages to via the Hangouts App.
It’s possible that OnBeep will be the kind of device that finds particular utility in enterprise (haha) scenarios. That may make the most sense; guest service reps at a department store, or employees at a warehouse or factory might find OnBeep particularly useful to find quick answers to sudden questions. For the general public, however, it might be a tougher sell. We’ll have to hear more details from OnBeep’s team to see whether this wearable could break through into mainstream usage.
In the meantime, the post notes that OnBeep will hit before the end of the year. That’s good, since last year saw the major success of a suspiciously similar sounding product called CommBadge on Indiegogo. That project has been looking to launch its initial production wave since last summer – but with a little under $18,000 raised, it doesn’t have nearly the kind of cash that OnBeep boasts. Between the two of them, however, it looks like we’ll see some kind of nerdy communicator wearable long before the 23rd century rolls around.