A Montreal startup is building a smartwatch that aims to make your smartphone redundant – and eventually your tablet, your laptop and your smart TV too.
The Neptune Hub, expected to ship later this year, can do just about everything a smartphone does — make calls, surf the web, track your position with GPS, and run apps using Lollipop, the latest version of Android.
It's true that the 2.5-inch (6.3-centimetre) screen is a little small for doing a lot of the things you do on your smartphone, like watching videos, playing games or reading e-books.
'If someone buys this, obviously they're going to give up their phone.' - Simon Tian, Neptune
So Neptune, founded and headed by 20-year-old Simon Tian, has come up with a solution — the Hub comes with an extra, smartphone-sized touch screen called the Neptune Pocket. It's a "dumb" screen, like a computer monitor, but acts a lot like a smartphone when connected wirelessly to the Hub. It also acts as an extra battery pack that can be used to recharge the watch.
Together, the Hub and the Pocket can be pre-ordered as a $798 package called the Neptune Duo. The company is offering discounts of up to $300 to those who pre-pay at least part of the amount.
The Neptune Duo represents the first step toward Tian's vision of a world where smartphones and tablets as we know them are extinct.
Most smartwatches are essentially a smaller, second screen for your phone that let you take calls and messages from your phone but can't do much on their own — the much-anticipated Apple Watch will require you to have an iPhone 5 or later and even the Samsung Gear S, which has its own SIM card and phone number, requires you to have a Samsung Galaxy phone running Android 4.3 or higher.
That's not the kind of smartwatch made by Neptune. In 2013, the company released a very large standalone Android smartwatch called the Neptune Pine that could independently connect to cellular networks and Wi-Fi, play videos and even take photos with its front and rear cameras. About 8,000 of the $349 devices have been sold worldwide.
Neptune bills the Hub, with its quad-core processor, as the "world's smartest wearable."
Tian thinks owning as many powerful computer chips as we do in connected devices ranging from smartwatches to tablets to TVs is redundant in an age when such chips are small enough to wear on your wrist.
"It no longer makes sense to duplicate that in each and every device," he said.
His solution – put all the computing power in a watch that can connect wirelessly to smartphone, tablet, or TV-sized "dumb" displays.
'Dumb' screens are cheap, light
Displays like the Pocket are lighter – and cheaper – than a smartphone because they don't need any hardware to make them "smart," Tian said.
Nor do they need to be tied to any one person, since they don't contain your personal files – those are stored on your watch, which you are arguably less likely to forget and leave behind than a phone.
"Eventually, what I see is a world where these displays are so cheap and commoditized that they're just everywhere, they're part of the environment," Tian said, "and wherever you go, you can just grab one and use it as yours."
That hasn't happened yet, so Neptune is selling one with the watch, with more to come.
Tian said the company plans to unveil more devices in March, including a tablet-sized screen and a dongle that plugs into an HDMI port, allowing you to use a TV or monitor as a screen for your watch.
In the meantime, does he really think people are going to give up their smartphones for the Neptune Duo?
"If someone buys this, obviously they're going to give up their phone," he says. "If the question is more, 'Do you see a majority people giving up their phones for this?' I think that will be a very gradual process. I think the current version as it is…really is a first step."