Musician, start-up investor and all-round Renaissance man will.i.am officially unveiled his first smartwatch at the Dreamforce conference this week. While a lot of the thinking around wearables is based on the assumption that the device will be required to link to a smartphone, the i.amPuls smart band works free of such constraints, allowing users to make calls, send messages and emails, and play music – all without a phone. “I built something that fits on your wrist, and you don’t need a phone to make it work,” says will.i.am.
The device also includes a GPS, fitness tracker, and social media platforms. And as you might expect from a celebrity with such a distinctive personal style, the Puls focuses on fashion as much as on functionality; it is available in a range of colours, with a “luxury” black and gold version also available.
Will.i.am’s company, i.am+, is now working on a whole range of connected wearables, including shoes, glasses, and bags. But he doesn’t necessarily see himself as in competition with the big boys; he describes the Apple Watch as “awesome” and “beautiful”, and believes that companies can motivate each other to do better work – a lesson he learned in the music industry. “Michael Jackson was the most amazing artist ever. But that didn’t stop me from doing music,” he told CNET. “I didn’t look at Michael Jackson as a competitor. He was my inspiration.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a pop star who has one eye permanently on the future, will.i.am is also eager to inspire the next generation of tech talent. “Right now, there’s no shortage of musicians, there’s no shortage of athletes. There’s a shortage of engineers – especially in inner cities,” he said in an interview with TechCrunch’s Sarah Buhr. “Creating a product or an app is not the first thing in kids’ minds in inner cities.” Through the i.am.angel Foundation, he has launched an after-school tutoring and mentoring programme to equip teens from all backgrounds with the tools and skills required for a future in science or engineering.
As he states in his Huffington Post blog; “I am living proof that a good education and an interest in STEM can transform a life.”