Intel's Wearables Plan: Fashion, Design and a Smart Bracelet With Flair

Nobody Wants Smartphones Strapped to Their Wrists

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Intel's Mike Bell and TechCrunch's Ingrid Lunden at the Web Summit in Dublin on Wednesday.
Intel's Mike Bell and TechCrunch's Ingrid Lunden at the Web Summit in Dublin on Wednesday.
An Intel and Opening Ceremony Mica bracelet.
An Intel and Opening Ceremony Mica bracelet.

Intel has made a very big bet on wearables, announcing plans for a set of chips designed to support the category and buying Basis Science, maker of fitness-focused Basis Bands. But the category is in trouble if it doesn't soon move past its typical look today, said Mike Bell, corporate VP-general manager of the new devices group at Intel. Nobody wants smartphones strapped on their wrists, he said.

"Fitness is an obvious area where wearables will succeed first," Mr. Bell said, speaking Wednesday during the continuing Web Summit in Dublin. But a lot of the so-called fitness trackers on the market are "glorified pedometers," he said: You could strap them on a paint can and they'd be fooled.

And design remains a glaring constraint, Mr. Bell added. "I don't particularly like square faces," he said. Marketers need to offer watches that look like traditional Swiss pieces but with smart features inside, he said.

If wearables don't improve in the near future, the reality won't live up to the hype, he said. "We want to get into this space quickly," Mr. Bell said. "We'd like to help drive it."

To make sure that Intel's bet pays off, the company has become a tech sponsor of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and worked with design-focused retailer Opening Ceremony to develop a smart bracelet called Mica (for My Intelligent Communication Accessory).

Mr. Bell showed off a MICA bracelet on stage at the Web Summit. "We've done a lot of work to bring technology and fashion together," he said.

Apple's entry into the business with the Apple Watch, of course, helps build consumer interest and ensure that another marketer is paying close attention to design, he said. "Overnight for me it legitimized smart watches," Mr. Bell said.

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