Ringly enters pre-sales, aims to prove that wearable technology can be as beautiful as it is functional

By Michael Carney , written on June 10, 2014

From The News Desk

At the risk of gender stereotyping, male and female smartphone users aren’t created equal. One of the biggest differences in their usage patterns is that the fairer sex tends to carry their phone in a purse more often than a pocket. While this may seem a trivial distinction, it has profound impacts on the way notifications are delivered (and received).

Ringly is a New York-based hardware startup aimed at addressing this issue with wearable technology. As its name suggests, the company is focused, initially, on the ring form factor, however the general hand and wrist category is apparently fair game according to co-founder and CEO, and eBay alum Christina Mercando. Today, the one-year-old company announced the pre-sale availability of its first generation product, with first batch shipments expected to go out in Fall 2014.

Where Ringly is different than the many smart rings currently on the market is that it is designed as a fashion product first and a hardware product second. To that end, unless you’re wearing one of its 18-carat gold-plated, cocktail-style rings when it vibrates, it’s nearly impossible to tell that it’s anything more than a piece of everyday jewelry. The devices will feature a choice of semi-precious stones including, initially, black onyx, rainbow moonstone, pink sapphire, and emerald.

Inside the device, however, is a small processory, a bluetooth radio, a gyroscope, a small motor, and a battery. Accompanying the wearable device is a companion smartphone app (iOS and Android) that allows the user to customize notifications on a per-app and per-contact basis, generating custom vibration patterns and also setting notification rules for different circumstances. For example, a user may wish to only be notified during an important meeting if her spouse calls or her boss sends an email. At launch, Ringly will support notifications for Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, LinkedIn, Poshmark, Tinder, and Uber.

Early-bird pricing makes Ringly available at a rather affordable $145 price point, a figure that will jump up to $195 once the first batch of shipments is sent and pre-sales officially end. The rings are available in sizes 6, 7, and 8 initially, a seemingly range that Mercando says allows the company to fit one finger on the vast majority of users. Users who refer friends to the site will receive 10 percent off on their own purchase, meaning referring 10 friends equates to a free ring.

"We wanted to hit a price point that was comparable to pieces by traditional accessible luxury brands like Kate Spade, Michael Kors, and Mark Jacobs," Mercando says.

There were some design tradeoffs associated with making Ringly a fashion-first product, rather than an obvious piece of technology. Most significantly, Ringly has a range of 20 feet – as opposed to the standard 40 foot range of most Bluetooth LE devices – meaning users don’t need to keep their phone on them at all times, but must stay within the same room. Ringly, however notifies users with a vibration alert when they get to the outer edge of its connectivity range, making it an effective way to avoid leaving one’s phone behind.

Ringly also lasts (only) 3 days on a charge, a figure that the company could have extended if it were willing to develop a bulkier, less elegant product Mercando says. As it is, the company makes up for this apparent limitation with a clever charging solution. Ringly comes with a small jewelry box that doubles as a charging stand. The device easily snaps into place thanks to a small magnet in its base and charges through contact without the need to be plugged in (and thus the need for visible or covered ports).

Finally, Mercando and her team decided than the potential benefits of including a screen were outweighed by the aesthetic and battery-life tradeoffs, and thus decided to include only vibration alerts in its namesake product. Future devices, including eventual bracelets, may feature a screen Mercando says.

Where Ringly didn't compromise, according to its founder, is on quality. Ringly chose one of the thickest gold-platings levels in the jewelry industry with a nod toward durability. The devices are also water resistant – enough to enable hand washing, but not swimming. And without extreme events like the unit being stepped on or run over, the Ringly is built withstand everday bumping and banging without any adverse consequences, the company claims.

Of course it’s easy to talk a big game when it comes to hardware, but it’s another thing entirely to deliver. As Ringly-backer Marc Andreessen* told a San Francisco PandoMonthly crowd recently, “It’s called hardware for a reason — it is hard.

Mercando was smart to surround herself with a number of smart and strategically experienced individuals to make sure that Ringly would be more than just talk. Her co-founder, Logan Munro, for example is a veteran hardware designer with a number of medical device patents to his name. The pair then recruited a number of jewelry designers, including alumni of the renowned Fashion Institute of Technology. Finally, the company joined the Highway 1 accelerator and is working closely with that program’s parent organization PCH International on mass manufacturing and supply chain optimization.

Ringly, which is backed by First Round Capital*, Andreessen Horowitz*, Mesa+, Social+Capital, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, and PCH, raised a $1 million seed round of undisclosed size late last year. Thanks to its pre-sale strategy and advantageous manufacturing terms, Ringly won’t need to raise any additional outside capital to deliver its first batch of product. That said, Mercando and her team have a lengthy product roadmap and will likely refill its piggy bank with growth in mind, should this early pre-sale campaign prove popular – something that I’d certainly expect.

It’s unclear whether the smart ring is the ideal form factor for women who wish to never miss another mobile device notification. But Ringly’s offering in this category is among the best in this category and should go a long way toward proving that it’s at least a discreet and potentially fashionable option. Going forward, expect to hear more from this design-minded company – or if not hear, at least feel.

[*Disclosure: First Round Capital is an investor in Pando, as are Andreessen Horowitz partners Marc Andreessen, Jeff Jordan, and Chris Dixon.]