Former Sony president Phil Molyneux joins Will.i.Am's wearable startup

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Devindra Hardawar
February 26th, 2015
Former Sony president Phil Molyneux joins Will.i.Am's wearable startup

Phil Molyneux, the man who led Sony into the 4K era as its chief operating officer and president, is making a surprising move for his next gig: He's now Will.i.am's right-hand man for i.am+, the musician's wearable technology startup. Molyneux joined the company as its president and COO a few weeks ago, where he's basically tasked with making Will.i.am's dreamy vision of computing come true. The first example of that is the $399 Puls wristband, a bulky 3G-equipped wearable that the company believes can replace your phone. Aside from the star power behind it, there wasn't much about the Puls that seemed compelling when it was announced last fall. But Molyneux's participation has us thinking that Will.i.am's crazy wearable idea might actually have legs.

"Think about it, you'll no longer need to carry around a huge chunk of glass," Molyneux told us in an interview. "A mobile phone is not really mobile in its purist sense." But of course, with the Puls you'll be swapping the glass slab in your pocket for a chunky wristband that's on display all day. Molyneux got to know Will.i.am several years ago, and the two kept in touch when he moved on from Sony. He was particularly intrigued by the musician's take the combination of fashion and technology, something Molyneux calls "fashionology." That's something we're hearing more from other wearable companies (without the silly branding) -- it's not enough just to have a practical wearable, it has to be something with style that people want to wear.

Molyneux describes himself as a practical guy with plenty of experience scaling consumer electronics businesses globally. Basically, he's exactly what Will.i.am needed to build his wearable outfit. While he admits that there's still work to be done with the Puls -- the company needs to offer more sizing options and further optimize the device's battery -- Molyneux was proud that Puls managed to pass AT&T's rigorous lab approval process.

"The magnitude of that achievement really underlines how far the team has come ... it's a tacit acknowledgement of how to build a product of this complexity," he said.

I.am+ still has plenty to prove. While the Puls is already shipping to some buyers, its broader release is coming in a year where we're seeing refined wearables like the Apple Watch and Jawbone's Up 3 fitness band. Will.i.am's company may be thinking hard about fashion, but right now the Puls seems more like a sci-fi shackle than something truly stylish. It's also not the only company pursuing a standalone computer for your wrist: We saw something very similar from Neptune a few weeks ago. Molyneux hinted that there will be some intriguing announcements coming from the company soon. In particular, he says they'll address the Puls's battery life concerns (a wristband can't really replace your phone if it doesn't last all day, after all).

"We have lots of creative ideas on the table to define where we go next, what do we do next," Molyneux said. "Given my background and knowledge of the consumer electronics industry, I know that focus is the key. We're a small startup we need to put our energy into a couple of core products where we can do a thrilling job for people."

[Photo credit: Craig Barritt via Getty Images]

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