OnBeep developing walkie-talkie type wearable for mobile devices

The push-to-talk device will work with iOS and Android smartphones and ship later this year

OnBeep is readying a wearable device that will let smartphone users initiate a voice chat with a pre-defined group of people, walkie-talkie style, and to support its development the startup announced Wednesday it has closed a US$6.25 million funding round.

The device will be customized for voice communication in small groups, and users will be able to activate it with a single touch.

"We are in early testing right now, so we are keeping the product under wraps. But it can be clipped to a shirt, jacket, bag or purse strap," CEO and co-founder Jesse Robbins said.

OnBeep has a number of use cases in mind, including people organizing events, friends on a trip and parents keeping track of their kids.

The main design goal was to make it as easy as possible to talk with one group at a time, so the device always communicates with the people chosen on a smartphone app, according to Robbins. The plan is to go after consumers first when the device is launched later this year. Pricing hasn't been announced.

The device communicates via iPhones and Android-based smartphones using regular Bluetooth. OnBeep decided to skip low energy Bluetooth for now to ensure compatibility with the widest possible variety of phones. The minimum battery time is a day with active usage, and it should be a couple of days for most people.

"It certainly has to last longer than your smartphone. One of the interesting things with a device like this is that it actually increases battery life on your smartphone, because you are not powering up and using the screen all the time," Robbins said.

This year there has been a lot of talk about mobile devices made from metal, and it's something OnBeep has thought about. But metal poses very specific challenges for radio performance, and the manufacturing processes are more complicated, according to Robbins. Therefore, the company decided to make the first version from a "high quality plastic," he said.

To ensure OnBeep gets all the components it needs, the company has taken advantage of contract manufacturer PCH's Access program. It gives hardware startups access to capabilities normally exclusive to Fortune 500 companies, according to PCH.

"PCH has been incredibly helpful to make sure we have got the right access to supply chain, shipping and logistics inventory, and the ability to talk to high quality component manufacturers. That has allowed us to get those relationships started early," Robbins said.

People who want to get OnBeep's device as soon as it's available can sign up on the company's website.

The original inspiration for the product was Nextel's iDEN-based push-to-talk feature. One of OnBeep's co-founders, Roger Wood, was intimately involved with iDEN's development while working at Motorola.

"There really hasn't been a replacement [for iDEN] that has survived the smartphone transition," Robbins said.

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