Home Olio Model One: Why The “Craft Brew” Of Smartwatches Actually Goes Flat

Olio Model One: Why The “Craft Brew” Of Smartwatches Actually Goes Flat

Last week, a new startup named Olio announced its first smartwatch: an expensive, cross-compatible wearable called the Model One that aims to circumvent the thorny issue of technological obsolescence. If the new device lives up to Olio’s hype, it might be the first smartwatch truly built to last.


But there are three big hurdles the Model One will have to clear if Olio wants its first product to last: its high cost, its low profile, and its extremely limited production run.

High End, High Price

Olio, which is staffed by former employees of Apple, Google, Movado, Pixar and NASA, has definitely built a slick looking smartwatch. It’s made of stainless steel, and its ion-exchange glass touchscreen display is built to survive impacts and resist scratches.

It’ll come in two styles, and with those materials, neither comes cheap. The Model One Steel starts at $595 with a leather band, while a link-style band bumps the price up to $645. The Model One Black, meanwhile, costs $745 with a leather band and $795 with a linked band. Olio only plans to manufacture 500 units of each model; all 1,000 pieces are expected to ship this summer.

Underneath the fancy chassis, the Model One takes some of the best features of the competition and pack them into one device. Olio says the watch, which runs on a homegrown operating system, can communicate with Siri and Google Now via a feature called Olio Assist. Then there’s the organization of the notifications themselves, which are packaged in “Temporal Streams.” Seemingly similar to the Pebble Time’s Timeline, the Temporal Stream files past notifications under “earlier,” and future obligations under “later.”

The Model One sports premium materials, water resistance, and wireless charging.

Olio also says that the Model One’s battery tests provide two full days of life, with another two days if you turn off connectivity. If that’s not enough, the Model One also charges wirelessly, can control third party smart devices like thermostats and lights, and it’s water resistant.

All told, the Model One has a lot going for it—but it’s possible that none of that will actually matter.

Limited Edition, Limited Appeal

When asked about the Model One’s 1,000-piece production run, an Olio spokesperson offered this explanation:

Olio decided to do a very limited production for its first release because the company is committed to the quality and craftsmanship and wanted to make sure that every piece holds up the high standards of the company. Olio compares themselves to a craft brewery, and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.

That may be an apt analogy, but beer and wearables are pretty different. After all, if I buy a six-pack of a craft brew and I don’t like what I drink, I’m not out $600. Plus, I don’t have to call tech support.

Bottls of craft beer and the Model One are both water resistant, however.

Rather the Model One seems more akin to a diamond. Both cost more than they ought to because they’re rare, and that rarity seems basically bogus.

Artificially creating scarcity is a great way to make something seem valuable. If few exist, those that do are “rare”—and therefore “valuable”—by default. But while the Olio team boasts an impressive work resume, the brand itself is utterly meaningless to consumers. The Model One sounds nice, but with no previous devices to speak of, it seems unlikely that many consumers will clamor to own one of a mere thousand units.

And while Olio doesn’t want to be “everything to everyone,” it doesn’t seem like the Model One will actually be much of anything to anyone. Traditional watch fans would likely be just as turned off by the Model One’s digital heart as they are by the other smartwatches on the market. For the prices Olio is asking, you could easily buy a high-end mechanical watch instead.

Tech fans, meanwhile, may not find much here either. The Model One looks impressive, but its proprietary OS means it certainly won’t have any apps made by other developers. And with a maximum of only 1,000 possible customers in the market for Model One apps, there’s no reason for developers to bother.

Users will have access only to the features Olio deems most important. By contrast, new apps are popping up all the time for Android Wear, and we’re likely to be buried under a metric ton of Apple Watch apps this April and Pebble Time apps in May.

Don’t bother imagining what Flappy Bird looks like on the Olio Model One.

And that’s the biggest problem with the Model One. It costs as much as a fancy mechanical watch but it isn’t mechanical. It has many of the features of smartwatches, but misses out on apps, the most important smartwatch feature of all.

If you don’t think apps are important, be sure to ask how all your friends like their Windows Phones. Notifications and Internet-of-Things controls are two big selling points for wearables. But apps—which log your fitness, can control your camera from across the room, and even track your golf handicap—are what may actually justify smartwatches as a viable product category. Without them, and the possibility of new apps no one’s yet thought of, there really isn’t much point to a smartwatch at all.

So far, the Model One has garnered positive write-ups from the likes of TechCrunch and the Verge, and those writers have had hands-on time with the watch. I haven’t, so it’s entirely possible that I’ll change my tune if I should get to try one. But considering that only a thousand Model One units exist on the planet, that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.

Images courtesy of Olio

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