March 25, 2015 9:57 am
Updated: March 26, 2015 7:31 am

Canadian entrepreneur wants to replace your smartphone with smartwatch ‘hub’


TORONTO – In recent months, nearly every major tech company has unveiled a smartwatch. But the majority of consumers still show a lack of interest in the wearable devices – after all, they are nothing more than an accessory for your smartphone.

Simon Tian, 21, wants to change that.

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The Montreal-based entrepreneur is the brains behind Neptune Suite, a so-called computing hub that lives on your wrist.

It starts with the Hub; a standalone smartwatch that houses all of the user’s computing power. The device – which runs Android Lollipop – is powerful enough to run apps, take calls and send messages.

The rest of the suite is comprised of a collection of screens that centre around the device, including “Pocket,” a smartphone-sized screen, and “Tab,” a tablet sized screen with an attachable keyboard.

These secondary devices are “dumb” – they include front and rear facing cameras for picture taking, but beyond that they merely act as accessories.

The suite also includes a dongle that will allow you to stream content to your TV and wireless earbuds that double as a charging cord.

“The typical smartwatch is this Bluetooth paired accessory that heavily relies on the presence of your smartphone and acts as a remote controlled notifications centre,” Tian told Global News during an interview last week.

“In our case the wrist worn device is actually the smart device – it can be smart on its own – it doesn’t depend on the presence of any other device.”

Neptune’s bold idea is quite simple – users would be able to jump from device to device without having to worry about syncing data across multiple devices. As Tian puts it, “You are just using the same computer on different screen sizes.”

The computer just happens to be on your wrist.

“This makes you the center of your computing life,” he said.

‘A new computing era’

Tian’s project – which has already raised over $900,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo – will be one of the first of its kind to go to mass market.

He isn’t shying away from the fact that it’s an ambitious business venture.

“This is only the beginning of a whole new computing era,” he explained on the Neptune Suite Indiegogo page.

“Imagine a world where devices are so commoditized that they’re just part of the environment. They can be everywhere; in your home, at the office, in your car, in restaurants, shopping malls, schools… Need a screen? Simply find one and use it as yours.”

Tian’s venture into the wearable tech industry started in 2013, when he released the Neptune Pine – the first smartwatch that could run without a smartphone.

The entrepreneur saw great success with that first project, raising over $800,000 on Kickstarter and attracting reviews from leading tech publications.

GALLERY: Neptune Suite

Since then, tech giants including Motorola, Pebble and Apple have all unveiled smartwatches. Samsung also released a standalone smartwatch, Gear S, which allows users to make and receive calls without their smartphone.

But, Tian wasn’t impressed by what the devices were offering consumers and was compelled to do more.

“What Samsung is proposing with the Gear S is this additive device which requires a SIM card on its own and a Galaxy Note to start functioning – yes you can ‘decouple’ from the device once it’s set up but you still need to pay two separate accounts and have two separate numbers,” he said.

“We don’t feel its solving any real problems. What we’re proposing is really a disruption in the entire ecosystem.”

Hub-and-spoke model could offer cost effective solution for consumers

A computing model like Tian’s could have some big benefits for consumers – most notably cost.

For instance, Neptune Suite will retail for $899 – or $599 for those who pre-order on Indiegogo.

To use Apple’s smartwatch, for example, the user needs to have invested in an $800 smartphone in addition to the Apple Watch, which starts at $449. That isn’t factoring in other devices the consumer may own, like a tablet or laptop.

READ MORE: How the Apple Watch compares to its competition

“As time goes it will become more and more obvious – as computing power shrinks and get more efficient it won’t make sense to have stuff duplicated across devices. The suite itself is really the first step,” Tian explained.

The business model also opens up the opportunity for third parties to create unique screens for different use cases – for example, a rugged screen for outdoor activities, or a screen with an upgraded camera for travel.

However, it will take a big shift in both the consumer and manufacturer’s prospective for the model to take off.

Tian, for one, is confident that the market will eventually accept this new model.

“What’s the killer feature of a wearable? That’s the question the industry has been looking to answer. But, it’s not rocket science,” Tian said.

“It’s that it’s wearable… it’s you. It makes sense that the only personal device is the device that’s on your person.”

After the Neptune Suite Indiegogo campaign closes, Tian’s team plans on finishing up some of the technical designs before the device goes to mass market. The company expects to ship Neptune Suite to Indiegogo supporters by February 2016.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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