Pretty Geeky is an ongoing series that explores the role of style and design in wearable technology.
Luxury fashion is coming from an unexpected source.
Chipmaker Intel wants to make wearables look good, a feat that has only been accomplished by a handful of smaller companies looking to capitalize on the fashionista’s desire to dress up while staying connected.
In a partnership with fashion house Opening Ceremony, Intel created MICA, or “My Intelligent Communication Accessory,” a luxury bracelet for the technically fabulous.
Intel’s smart cuff isn’t like most wearable smartwatches or bangles you can buy today. Its high price, retailing under $1,000, and trendy design featuring semi-precious stones, 14-karat gold plating and black or white snakeskin, targets an upscale market of women who want the convenience of a connected device, but are willing to splurge on style.
“Once you start to wear something on your body, it becomes an expression of yourself,” said Sandra Lopez, director of business development at Intel’s New Devices Group. “It’s not about putting a piece of technology on your wrist, but much more about both aesthetics and functionality.”
Like other smart jewelry, MICA receives notifications including texts and meeting alerts, but they’re discreetly hidden on a 1.6-inch curved sapphire glass touchscreen display on the underside of the wrist. What people will see is the the obsidian, tiger’s eye, pearls or lapis stones that make the luxury cuff, well, luxurious.
Intel is still working with third-party apps, so the company isn’t ready to announce the full capabilities of MICA yet, but it’s expected to have a more comprehensive set of features—more than the SMS already announced—when it’s available to the public in November.
The cuff is data-only, so it has no phone or voice capabilities. At launch, AT&T will be the exclusive network provider.
MICA is designed to be a standalone device, and it comes with its own distinct sim card and 3G data, so if you don’t have your phone, you can still get mobile notifications. The bracelet can be charged with both a micro USB and Intel’s wireless charging bowl. Intel hasn’t disclosed what the battery life will be, and if it needs to be charged regularly, as in, more than once a day, it might make the bracelet a nonstarter.
It’s Pretty, But Is It Worth It?
There’s no doubt MICA is an attractive piece of jewelry. I’ve lamented that the current crop of wearables is too ugly to put on my wrist, either because they dwarf my small bones, or because despite attempts to brand them otherwise, smart accessories still look like shrunken smartphones with rubber tied around them.
Though I might not be entirely fashion-conscious, I do enjoy matching my clothes and accessories.
Because the MICA comes in two colors—black and white—it goes with virtually any outfit. And being designed specifically with women in mind, it fits nicely on my arm.
But here’s where it gets ugly—the MICA cuff only comes in one size; a 6.7 inch circumference. If my hands-on experience is any indication, that size is rather small. I’m not as thin as the models posing with the cuff in Intel’s advertising, but my wrists do tend to measure on the small side. And even I had a hard time turning it around comfortably, and moving it up and down my arm.
See also: What Fashionistas Want In A Wearable
According to Lopez, Intel’s industrial design team looked at the average size of wrists for women in general, and created one size they thought women would want. A one-size-fits-all model is standard for jewelry designers, but it might not cut it in technology.
Just as watchmakers should make multiple sizes and styles of smartwatches—thank you, Apple!—for different demographics planning on shelling out a few hundred dollars for a connected device, fashion designers dabbling in tech accessories should consider that not all women or men have the same size wrists.
MICA isn’t for everyone, but for women willing to spend almost a thousand dollars on a piece of connected designer jewelry, MICA might be a good option, providing battery life and app compatibility gets them through the day. But tech consumers looking for a wearable that does as much as a smartphone shouldn’t splurge on this first-generation fashion and communications accessory.
Fashionistas can find MICA at Barneys New York this holiday season.
Model photos by Intel. Other photos by Selena Larson and Owen Thomas for ReadWrite.
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