Good Vibrations: A smart bracelet for long-distance lovers

Alexander List's startup HeadTalk IO is a member of TechStars Boston.
Alexander List's startup HeadTalk IO is a member of TechStars Boston.

Skype dinner dates and Snapchat selfies are great, but not being able to touch that special someone is the great big downside to long-distance relationships.

A new wearable device called Magnet promises to keep the attraction alive between partners who are miles apart. When you tap one bracelet, its pair buzzes, like a little love tap on your wrist.

Magnet launches on Kickstarter today, and is an egg-shaped bauble that can be strapped to your wrist or worn as a pendant. It pairs with your smartphone. Tap it, and the Magnet on your partner’s wrist lights up and vibrates, a wordless message that says says, “I’m here.” The co-founder of the startup making Magnet, Alexander List, says the devices are sensitive enough for partners to create their own private Morse Code: One tap might mean “Hi.” Or three taps might be “I love you.”

List and his team at startup HeadTalk.IO are launching a Kickstarter campaign Tuesday. Their goal is to raise $60,000 by November 21. The bracelets will cost $190 for a pair, but Kickstarter backers will get them for $120 a pair. Long-distance lovers can expect to get their bracelets by Valentine’s Day, though early adopters can sign up to get prototypes in the mail ASAP.

List’s partner started out as a beta tester for Magnet. When List traveled to India for a visit, they kept in touch via Magnet, and the devices helped them bond. They’re still dating (and she’s still a beta tester). Fourteen other couples, including some friends of the HeadTalk team, are beta-testing the devices currently.

Concept art for the upcoming versions of Magnet, which will come in two colors.

If Magnet’s communication-by-vibration sounds familiar, it may be because it’s one of the features built into the Apple Watch. In fact, “Digital Touch” was among the few Watch party tricks that Tim Cook chose to showcase at the September unveiling of the device. Similar to the Magnet, you can tap-tap text your partner, sure. But you can also draw finger-art on the screen and send that. Press the screen with two fingers, and the Watch will record your heart rate and send that to that special someone. How’s that for intimate?

So if you plan to buy yourself and your partner an Apple Watch set, wouldn’t the Magnet be redundant? If you already wear a fitness tracker, wouldn’t this be yet another dongle vying for real estate on your wrist, yet another device to keep charged? I put these questions to List. He insists that the driving appeal of his device is its simplicity. No dings from work emails or texts from friends: “It does one thing and one thing only.”

The Magnet is still a prototype by a mile — the device List and 14 other couples are testing are held on their wrists by a piece of elastic band. The finished devices are expected to come in two colors and with a varieties of straps and necklace fittings.

But all that’s TBD. For now, List secures his with a bright red strap decorated with gnomes—picked out by his girlfriend, of course.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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