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Luxury smartwatch maker Olio adds 24k gold to its repertoire

Nicole Lee, @nicole
07.30.15
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Back in March, Olio introduced a new kind of smartwatch to the world: the Model One. Olio aimed to set itself apart from other smartwatches by going premium; really premium. We're talking surgical-grade stainless steel, precision forged housing, leather sourced from Italian tanneries and basically the same materials and processes you'd expect from a high-end Swiss watch. It's so premium that Olio only made 1,000 of them -- 500 in black and 500 in steel -- in its first, limited batch. They were priced over $500. They were also sold out in a matter of weeks. Today, Olio is introducing its second batch of watches. It has the same black and steel options as before but now? The watch also comes in two different shades of gold.

Gallery: Olio smartwatch | 34 Photos

The new hardware is available in either 24 karat gold or 18 karat rose gold and the material is supposedly "very pure real gold," as Steve Jacobs, Olio's founder and CEO, tells me. He speaks especially highly of the rose gold, saying that it's a custom alloy that the company itself designed. "It's a chocolatey rose gold, with a very sultry tone," he said. And it's not just the gold material either; Jacobs tells me that instead of ion-exchange glass, the new gold watches were made with sapphire crystal.

Like the other watches, the gold ones come in either a link bracelet or you can opt for either a black or brown alligator grain leather strap. The leather ones are $1195 each while the all-gold link bracelets are $1395 each. But even if you do have the cash to buy one, you'll be wise to hurry up and get one. Just like with the first edition, the second batch of watches will be limited in quantity: there'll be 500 each of the black and steel ones, and only 100 each of the two gold options.

"The way we've built our company is very akin to a craft brewery or an artisan coffee shop," says Jacobs, who's done product design for companies like Apple, HP and Google. "We make really high quality stuff in small batches." He says that in addition to the design and the materials, the company also focused a lot on the watch's feel. There are steel ballasts in all four corners, and he says the company actually "shaves microns off at a time" to get at the right weight. "It has beveled edges so it doesn't hit your wrist bones."

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That said, the watch is still a big and heavy thing. This, he says, is aligned with the current trend of oversized watches. But as I tried on a few different pairs of the Olio, I knew it was a bit too hefty for me. Still, Jacobs says that in the future, they hope to reiterate and come up with smaller designs. The watch has an inductive charging coil on the back for wireless charging (it ships with a small travel-sized charger) and it also has conventional watchband straps so you can swap them out with your own if you like.

I also couldn't help but notice that the watchface isn't a complete circle; it falls victim to the same sliced off look that the Moto 360 has. According to Jacobs, when they designed the watch two years ago, there was little choice but to squeeze in all of the phone's sensors in that little half-circle, if only to make sure the rest of the watch wouldn't be too clunky. He did say, however, that the company is working on different watch designs going forward.

What's particularly interesting about the Olio, however, is its proprietary software. Instead of opting for Android Wear, the Olio is actually compatible with both Android and iOS. As such, it doesn't come app-laden like most modern smartwatches. Instead, its UI is pretty simple: from the watchface, you can swipe down to reveal settings and swipe up to show useful controls like a music player or navigation. Jacobs says you can even use it to remotely start your car or control a Nest thermostat. It can do this without apps, he says, because of any service can communicate through notifications and open APIs. Olio is also working on directly integrating a few services with the watch, though Jacobs wouldn't say which ones.

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Swiping left and right will reveal "earlier" and "later" screens: "Earlier" shows the notifications you've missed, while "Later" reveals your upcoming schedule. Other features include the usual stopwatch and timer functions and the weather forecast. What I found intriguing is that the watchface itself is dynamic: at night, it has a starry night aesthetic, while it's brighter during the day. There's also an astral pattern on the watch that shows your last 12 hours of digital activity -- if you received a ton of tweets and emails between 2 and 4pm, for example, those areas of the watch would be filled with rays. It's a unique touch, Jacobs says, that means the watchface will never be the same for any one person. Additionally, the watchfaces are uniquely designed for each style of watch too; so the black and steel watchfacees have different designs than the gold ones.

Another interesting touch is something called Olio Assist, which Jacobs describes as a cloud-based personal assistant. The way it works is this: Say you receive a text message from your boss asking about your project. You're driving at the time, so you can't answer, but you simply swipe "Yes" on your watch. Because the watch knows through location and movement that you're driving, it could respond to your boss saying that you're driving, but you'll be happy to respond later. And then when you arrive at your destination, the watch will ping you to remind you to respond. "The idea here is that it'll continue to learn your behavior over time," says Jacobs.

The target audience for the Olio, Jacobs says, is likely the modern-day professional. "Our best-selling models, are the most expensive ones. People aren't coming to us looking for the cheapest thing, people come to us for a luxury timepiece that's also intelligent and functional."

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