After three years of research and development, musician turned tech entrepreneur will.i.am is ready to get the wearable tech thing started.
The Black Eyes Peas founder and producer of such hits as I Got a Feeling and Let’s Get It Started today launched i.amPULS, his twist on wearable tech, at Salesforce’s massive user conference in San Francisco.
“If we were to imagine a world without a smartphone and dream up something for the wrist, what would it be?” he tells USA TODAY. “I built something that fits on your wrist, and you don’t need a phone to make it work.”
The product, which will be in stores before the end of the year, will start at $499. It will compete with smartwatches from Samsung, LG, Motorola and more, including the upcoming Apple Watch.
Features of the PULS include phone calling, texting, reading and writing e-mail, listening to music, checking Facebook and Twitter and tracking your steps.
The musician, born as William Adams, was a founding investor in Beats Electronics, which sold to Apple earlier this year for $3 billion. His payout as a tech investor enabled him to put $15 million into forming his i.am+ company, and he raised another $30 million from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and others.
Like Beats co-founder and rapper Dr. Dre, will.i.am is one of the few high-profile African Americans in a tech industry that has come under fire recently for being mostly white and male.
However, he is not new to tech. He has served as a consultant to both Intel and BlackBerry in the past, and is a frequent presence at tech conferences.
USA TODAY met up with him at his multi-stage “Future” studio in the heart of the old Hollywood district, where he has software coders, fashion designers, sewers, musicians and photographers all at work on various aspects of the new product and more to come.
For the moment, music is taking somewhat of a back seat to tech.
“The company of the future is one that’s self-contained and able to reach an audience on its own.”
In other words, he wants to sell the hardware that profits from the software.
As a musician, he made hit records (for the Peas and with Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber) that in turn helped sell both CDs and CD players. “Our songs are what bring people to the stadium. I want to sell the devices you hear them with.”
The musician has a long association with Apple. He and the Peas have appeared in Apple ads.
Is he feeling competitive with PULS vs. the coming Apple Watch?
In a word, no.
“When you have something you want to put on your body, there are options. You don’t have one pair of shoes or jeans. In the world of fashion you need options. And in the world of wearable tech: I’m providing another option for you.”
He sees himself as an example of a way to tackle the tech diversity issue. Invest, and show young kids of color what’s possible.
“It’s the whole reason why I’ve invested my own money to start this company,” he says.
“I had after-school programs to encourage kids to take interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and they’d say, ‘Why can’t I be a rapper like you?'”
He says he doesn’t want to point fingers at Google, Apple and other tech firms, but instead lead by example.
“I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is.”
The bigger issue is that young kids in ghettos haven’t been taken seriously, he says. Schools need to do a better job teaching computer science. “We need to support them. It’s urgent.”
SOURCE: USA Today – Jefferson Graham