Hot Watch is one the latest smartwatches to hit Kickstarter, and since the beginning it has captured a lot of attention and support. Hot Watch comes with unique designs and features that make it stand out as an innovative device. I was able to obtain an interview with Shariq Hamid, CEO of Hot Watch, to get even more details on this new technology.
SG: I am here today with Shariq Hamid, the CEO of Hot Watch, and Mark Tepper, the VP of Sales and Marketing of Hot Watch. Hot Watch is currently funded on Kickstarter with about three more weeks to go. Thank you both for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me.
SH: Thank you for your time.
MT: Thanks Stan.
SG: So Hot Watch is actually a project by PHTL Inc. You guys have been inventing and innovating for over five years. What can you tell me about the PHTL projects and what makes those projects important?
SH: PHTL has several products, with our first product being a facial-recognition software called iCount. We took that product and started using it with the cinema industry, which has since escalated worldwide. We were basically a software company at that time. After the success of iCount, we transitioned to a semi-hardware product – a smart power strip for power automation. We had very good success with that product as well as with companies like NASA, Intel, Microsoft, Raytheon, Siemens, and Rogers Corporation buying our product. It gave us exposure into hardware and consumer products, where we gained experience in manufacturing these kinds of products. From there and on we have filed several other patents on different technologies, and one of them being this Hot Watch, back in 2010. So we started working on Hot Watch, which is 100% a consumer product. With the Hot Watch, the idea was to give a solution where using your phone becomes an easier task. You don’t have to handle the phone pretty much throughout the day for all the regular tasks that you do on the phone: phone calls, or texts, or simple notifications. The idea is to leave your phone in a bag so you don’t take it out. You reduce your chance of losing or breaking it by using your Hot Watch instead.
SG: That’s pretty impressive – the work that you’ve done behind the scenes with a lot of other companies. So how has this work on your other projects prepared you for the development process of Hot Watch?
SH: Quite a bit. We already have manufacturing partners that we used for Power USB, which we can use for this Hot Watch, and meet our deadline that we promised on Kickstarter. We already have channels set up. We already have partners set up. They’re getting this Hot Watch ready, developed, and it will help us get those Hot Watches on time.
SG: That’s actually a significant advantage right there. A lot of other Kickstarter companies are still trying to find who they’re going to work with. So the “Hot” in Hot Watch stands for Hands on Technology. What does this mean exactly?
SH: It means that you basically use your hand to make a call. It’s like an invisible phone in your hand. So imagine you have a phone in your hand, you will take your hand like this [gestures], with the phone sitting right here, and you’ll start talking. With Hands on Talk technology, you’re simply using your palm and your fingers to make a crystal clear call. And your phone is still in your bag or in your pocket.
SG: Probably my favorite feature of Hot Watch. So what can you tell me about the inspiration behind Hot Watch? Had you considered any other form factors originally or did you always know you wanted to make a watch from the beginning?
SH: I don’t know that we always knew we wanted to make a watch. We always wanted to make something so people don’t have to take out their phone throughout the day. It was a watch, it was a bracelet, it was an add-on. I don’t know when it evolved into a watch. Three years ago we started working on it. We’ve added features along the way, like gesture control, touch screen, shortcuts. It all evolved, and it would be hard for me to pinpoint that time we realized it needs to be a watch, or that day we needed to have a touch screen, or that day we changed the touch screen to a projected touch screen. A watch, obviously, is the easiest thing to wear on your wrist, but I don’t know if it happened in early 2010 or middle 2010 or end of 2010, but we’ve been working on it for few years.
SG: So since the time you started working on the Hot Watch in 2010, what concerns have you had and what have you done to overcome them?
SH: We started working on Hot Watch in 2010, and at that time we were a software company. But around that time is also started working with Power USB. Any concerns that we had for Hot Watch, we used our Power USB experience in manufacturing and hardware and distribution to overcome that. We make sure that we would not have any hurdles to cross with Hot Watch.
SG: You’ve already covered and named a few of the companies that you work with. Which companies would you say have the most important roles in the development of Hot Watch?
SH: We have some major partners with us. We have Sharp as our major partner, we have Kodak as our major partner. So the companies that I already mentioned like Intel and NASA and Raytheon and Microsoft, those are Power USB customers. Sharp, Kodak, the other major companies we are partnering with, are all very excited. Not only us! They are very excited to use that technology into this new must-have gadget for everyone. Introducing gesture control, projected touch screen, those kind of technologies we are very excited, and I think our partners are very excited as well.
SG: How has the Kickstarter campaign helped the development process of Hot Watch so far?
SH: Kickstarter has been great. Obviously we all know when you go to Kickstarter you’re looking for funding, so that is a given advantage of Kickstarter. But I think as important as getting parts for a new project is how you gain a focus group. A sincere group. The people who are going to buy your product, use it, and want to make it better. You can not get a more perfect group than that anywhere else, so I think that has been a real advantage going on Kickstarter. We are getting people’s feedback. We’re getting very positive feedback and we’re listening to them. Why wouldn’t we? They are trying to make the product better. They, who have backed us, want to put this watch on their hand. They’re telling us their needs, their requirements, on how we can make it better. And we are taking all that in. Some of them have been incorporated in this version. Some suggestions coming in are great, but may require some hardware changes. We are putting those on a back burner so we may incorporate it someday, because this is a need coming from a very focused group. If you listen to them I think it will just make any product better.
SG: So that partly answers one of my next questions, about how the Kickstarter process has inspired some new ideas. It sounds like you’ve gotten a lot of great ones from the backers and the people who want to actually own the product. Have some of these been able to be integrated into the current design, or are we possibly looking at something that’s going to be “shelved” for a new generation?
SH: Some are being incorporated right now. There was a “HoT” on the face of the watch, which our backers were really vocal about. They did not want that big H O T on the glass. So they gave a suggestion asking us to make it subtle, make it in a way so people who are wearing it on the right hand, it doesn’t look upside down. So we changed it into a simple looking H, very subtle, gray color, hardly visible. But if you wear it on your right hand as well, you can still see it as an H and it won’t look upside down. Then a lot of feedback coming in on certain models were from people who wanted a different strap instead of leather strap. So we are giving that choice to our backers as well, so they will be able to select that strap. One other suggestion was sleep tracking. We added that as our stretch goal of 400 thousand and we have crossed that goal and we will be adding sleep tracking app to our watch. Another suggestion was to make it Windows compatible and make a Windows app for it so all the features, not only the call features, but all the features are usable on Windows phones as well. So we have put that as a stretch goal for 600 thousand. I’m very confident we’ll reach that as well so we will be able to support Windows phone users also. So those are the things we were able to incorporate right away. Other thing suggested was wireless charging, for example. Those require hardware changes and we feel at this time not everyone has that wireless charger available. Maybe at some later date with the wireless charging is more frequently, easily available for people to have in their home, we’ll maybe incorporate it. But I don’t think we can do it in this model because the biggest, biggest commitment is when we’re going to ship it. And we won’t do anything to jeopardize our shipment date.
SG: I’ve seen a lot of posts and comments, and many backers get super excited with all these ideas that they want to put in, and usually that ends towards project creep. [laughs] So that does defeat deadlines.
SG: Since we’re on the topic of features, I want to bring up the one that I’m the most interested in. You had previously mentioned it; It’s the microphone and speaker that is built into the wrist. Just being able to put your cupped up hand to your ear and hold a phone conversation is very cool, very James Bond, very cutting edge. The first thing that came to my mind was what kind of difficulties did you have when you were making this, and you want to make sure it’s going to meet the quality standards that consumers would expect?
SH: With the technologies and the very excellent speakers available today, the call quality was not a big concern. We tested it. It is as good or better than holding your phone to your ear. The biggest challenge that we had was, that at the same time while we wanted to make it a crystal clear call we also wanted to make it a private experience, a private call. And just getting that balance right was a challenge. We did hundreds of thousands of tests of the call volume to make sure that we got that balance right. The call is crystal clear and the same time is not any louder than you holding a phone to your ear. If you’re holding your phone to your ear, somebody sitting right next to you, when it’s a loud conversation, they may be able to hear a little bit. Our phone is not any different from that. If you are want a private conversation you can have a private conversation. A person sitting a few feet away will not hear you.
SG: I believe that the way that PHTL had started off as a software company, definitely gave you an edge in developing the technology for the recognition. So what does it take to perfect the gestures so they get recognized and the watch knows what they are attempting?
SH: There is one picture in on our Kickstarter page which has a badminton racket attached to it. So the technology we used, the badminton racket recognized different gestures. And also we had one person falling down on a mattress 20 times a day to recognize the fall detection part of it. We have built in five gestures that comes with the watch. We did not want to get over ambitious with the gestures, because we have to keep in mind that certain gestures are common throughout the day and we don’t want it to be interpreted that you want to try to do something with the Hot Watch. So we had to keep the balance to make sure that certain gestures are recognized as only for Hot Watch. And your regular movements throughout the day are not misinterpreted as a gesture for the Hot Watch.
SG: That would create an interesting set of problems. Today, people butt-dial their friends or family, and if Hot Watch had too much of open recognition you might wave-dial somebody.
SG: The current lineup of the Hot Watch are stylish and they look like a lot of modern watches. They don’t look like some sort of watch-gadget. When might we expect to see some new designs for Hot Watch?
SH: Right now we are focused completely on these four designs that we want to send out in December or earlier to our backers. Once we have fulfilled our commitment and go into distribution, we’re possibly looking into more designs. But right now we don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize our timeline.
SG: Okay. So we read that the Hot Watch comes with an SDK and Windows simulator to create the apps. Where will users be able to share and download these apps, and what kind of quality control can be expected?
SH: The SDK will be available in December with all the details, and then people can create their own apps. Now, when you said quality control, somebody is creating an app for themselves and we don’t have any control on what they’re uploading on their watch. Once we have a platform where we start scrutinizing the apps to make available to the public, at that time we’ll add quality control. Developers can use their own imagination and come up with their own app. If they want to submit it for public release we will scrutinize before making it public.
SG: Cool. Based so far on your Kickstarter experience, and of course there is a lot more to go with the end of the campaign and all that you have to do, but what advice would you share to those who would also want to use Kickstarter to launch their own idea or their own project?
SH: I would say go for it. It’s definitely a great platform. We have some great support from the people at Kickstarter. They are very thorough, which is helpful for people making products and for people backing. They want to make sure that you have a working prototype, that you have actual products to share. They have some serious guidelines and you have to follow those guidelines, which I think it’s beneficial to everyone. And again my advice to people would be, yes funding is important but you get a very very active focus group.
SG: Overall what do you feel makes Hot Watch unique from anything currently out there on the market?
SH: I think we are the only watch out there that has complete solution. From Hands on Talk technology, obviously, then with the projected touch screen, gestures, speakerphone. So if you look at the all the day to day activities that you do on the watch: you can reply to texts, receive texts, receive notifications, take actions on it, make and receive calls, all without using buttons. We have made sure that during development we wanted to make it very user friendly. This means Hot gestures – not only the movement of your hand but the gestures on the screen itself – and also shortcuts. We made sure that you can get to any screen that you want within one swipe. Whether it’s the dial screen, clock setting, app screen, settings, menu screen, or your app for weather, stocks, Twitter, Facebook, anything is one touch away or one swipe away. So we have given users a complete solution that is extremely easy to use. When you introduce new technology, some of the fears is how hard how long will it take me to learn? We made sure it will not take long for anyone. All you have to do is learn few swipes and that’s it! And I think there is nothing out there that provides a complete solution. Not even close.
SG: That’s really good, really smart with the ease of use. Definitely opens up to a lot of people who might be a little afraid of it initially because it is actually a brand new type of technology that’s coming out. Wearable tech has been gaining a lot of steam recently, and it it’s going to explode straight into the consumer market. And with Hot Watch, you guys are going to be a part of this surge, this movement. So where do you see the future of wearable tech going?
SH: Like you said I think that is going to grow, it’s going to explode. All indications are, everything that you read tells you that this is the next move – the wearable technology. We’ve very excited to be here at the right time. We feel that we can be an industry leader in this smartwatch technology because we have a complete solution and a patented solution.
SG: Definitely. So what groups of people do you have in mind that would benefit the most from owning a Hot Watch today?
SH: Anybody who has a cellphone and doesn’t like to take that cellphone out every single time it beeps, dings, or rings, will benefit from it. I think anyone who has a phone in their pocket all day long, or in the bag, and do not want to just look at it every time it beeps to just see what happened. It could just be a simple Facebook notification, Twitter alert, a tweet, an alarm coming up, a meeting time coming out, they can just simply glance at their watch, and if they need to take any action they can do it right on the watch instead of grabbing for their phone.
SG: Here’s a question I ask everyone and you can answer it any way you choose, either personally or from the perspective of the interview. And the question goes; If you could choose any one person, past or present, real or fictional, to be your closest sibling and best friend, who would it be and why?
SH: [smiles] Hmm. Very good question. [laughs] [pauses] So repeat that again. Past or present..?
SG: Any one person, past or present, they could be real or they could be fictional, and they will be your closest sibling and also your best friend.
SH: James Bond.
SG: James Bond. Why James Bond?
SH: The technology that we are offering is for that character. So it’s not a personal answer, it’s more of our company answer to this. The technology we offer, I think it gives you that look. It gives you that James Bond feeling, and if somebody asks me if they want to make a Hot Watch commercial who would they use, I would say James Bond.
SG: My followup to that is, because I’m sure many people might think of it, if you had to pick an actor that has played James Bond do you have any preference? Or are you just thinking just any James Bond, just the sense of that type of lifestyle?
SH: I would say any James Bond, but if I had to pick I’d pick Pierce Brosnan.
SG: [laughs] Neat. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
MT: Yeah. We’re very excited about the Hot Watch and the technology. The Hot Watch works the way you work. It’s touch, it’s voice, it it’s gesture control . It’s all those natural qualities. And we’re very excited about the prospects.
SG: Very good. Well Shariq, Mark, again it was a pleasure and thank you so much for taking the time to share this additional information with us about Hot Watch.
MT: Thank you.
SH: Thank you. Thanks Stan.