Though the wearables world is largely focused on watches and headsets, Origami Labs’ Orii is different — a Bluetooth ring that turns your finger into an alternative speaker and microphone for your smartphone. Debuted last year in successful Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, the wearable is currently shipping to early backers, with wider availability expected to follow in the near future.
Originally developed to help visually impaired users with phone calls and text messages, Orii turned out to have broader applications. Using a bone conduction transducer, Orii sends audio signals through your fingertip, letting you hear phone calls and spoken text messages when you touch the soft area right outside your ear canal. When Orii is working as intended, the bone conduction transducer can enable you to hear audio more clearly in noisy environments than you would with a Bluetooth earpiece.
The ring also contains a noise-cancelling dual microphone system for calls, text message dictation, and use of your phone’s digital assistant. It can vibrate to alert you to notifications and sense taps to trigger phone features. Using Bluetooth LE 4.0 and Bluetooth 3.0, it promises 1-1.5 hours of active calling use or 45-48 hours of standby between recharges. Orii also features IPX7 “splash-proof” water resistance and comes bundled with a charger and charging case.
Of course, a ring-styled wearable has its own engineering and design challenges. To properly hear the bone conduction audio, backers who have received Orii units have needed to tweak the ring’s position on their index fingers, as well as learn proper finger positioning. Origami Labs is providing online Skype-based customer support to help users improve Orii’s sonic performance.
Sizing is thankfully user-adjustable. Four ring sizes are included in the package, spanning U.S. finger sizes 6 to 11 and requiring a final screwdriver twist to lock in the fit. And the ring isn’t exactly tiny, making users’ color choice — red, grey, black, or silver — fairly important as a finger fashion statement.
Like many crowdfunded projects, Orii has fallen behind its initial early-2018 production schedule, but it’s in the process of shipping units to Kickstarter backers first, with Indiegogo backers expected to follow in November. Once backer orders have been fulfilled, Orii is expected to be available for $159.
There’s plenty of room to speculate on the long-term prospects for Orii and other finger-based wearables: They’re certainly novel, but personal preference will determine whether you’re better off housing these components in a ring or a similarly priced Bluetooth earpiece. Several companies, including Apple, have considered using ring-based wearables as Apple Watch alternatives, or to control smart TVs and other devices, but relatively few “smart rings” have actually hit the market — most notably simple NFC bands.