A History of Silicon Valley

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These are excerpts from Piero Scaruffi's book
"A History of Silicon Valley"

(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

The Selfies (2011-16)

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Wearable Computing

In 2011 Los Altos-based WIMM Labs (founded in 2009 by former Intel executive Dave Mooring and acquired in 2013 by Google) introduced the Android-based Wimm One smartwatch. 2012 and 2013 saw the debut of mass-market smartwatches such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear and the Sony SmartWatch, both powered by Android, and the Pebble smartwatch, running its own operating system but capable of communicating with both Android and iOS apps. The latter, introduced by Palo Alto-based Eric Migicovsky's garage startup, set a new record ($10 million) in Kickstarter funding. A similar feat was achieved later that year by Laurent LePen's Omate for its TrueSmart smartwatch (LePen was based in China but the company was based in Mountain View). In 2014 Google introduced the Android Wear platform. The first smartwatches based on Wear were Motorola's Moto 360 (2014), Sony's Smartwatch 3 (2014), LG's G Watch (2014) and Samsung's Gear Live (2014). Apple introduced its Apple Watch in April 2015, and this quickly became the bestselling smartwatch in the world.

Wearable devices posed a challenge to high-tech companies because they involved issues more related to fashion than to technology. Hence San Francisco-based Fitbit, founded in 2007 by James Park and Eric Friedman (acquired in 2019 by Google), maker of the Tracker, partnered with Tory Burch, a boutique specializing in women's designer apparel, Google partnered with industrial designer Isabelle Olsson for Google Glass, and Intel partnered with retail chain Opening Ceremony, founded in 2002 in New York by fashion specialists and Berkeley-graduates Carol Lim and Humberto Leon. Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, former chief executive of iconic luxury British retailer Burberry.

In 2016 Snapchat introduced its Spectacles, that were simply a more limited version of Google Glass (10 seconds videos only) but much cheaper and with a more ordinary look, almost the counterbalance to Google Glass' alien-futuristic look.

Scientific progress too was introducing new variables. For example, in September 2010 a team led by Ali Javey from UC Berkeley unveiled an "electronic skin", a flexible and touch-sensitive film of superconductive nanowire transistors. Fitbit had a virtually infinite number of competitors, from Misfit, founded in 2011 in San Francisco by Sonny Vu and Sridhar Iyengar, to Moov, founded in 2014 in Mountain View by Meng Li, Nikola Hu, Tony Yuan (offering a wearable band and a voice app to coach users).

In 2016 SRI International spun off Superflex, headed by Rich Mahoney, focusing on "wearable robotics" for helping the disabled and the elderly, DARPA's "Warrior Web" program to enhance soldier performance). In 2016 Berkeley-based BioBeats launched an app that took data from several existing wearables and used machine-learning algorithms to deliver advice to the user's smartphone. The machine-learning algorithm acted as a coach dedicated to maximize the user's health.

Naked founded in 2015 in San Francisco by Farhad Farahbakhshian, developed a "home body scanner", a 3D scanner that looked like a mirror and provided data about the body.

While the emphasis remained on wellness, the applications diversified rapidly, particularly in health care. VivaLNK was founded in 2014 in Campbell by Jiang Li to build Internet-connected healthcare devices for wellness and telemedicine, starting with a wearable thermometer. In 2018 VivaLNK provided wearable patches for a study by Stanford University on stress and teenage depression. Halo Neuroscience, founded in 2013 in San Francisco by Daniel Chao and Brett Wingeier who had just developed the world’s first closed-loop neurostimulation device for epilepsy patients at NeuroPace, developed a headset (Halo Sport) that, by stimulating the brain region responsible for muscle movement, help training in sports (running, swimming, cycling) and in practical skills (such as playing an instrument or swinging a golf club).

Vue, founded in San Francisco in 2016 by Aaron Rowley (formerly the founder of textile 3D printer Electroloom) and Jason Gui, offered stylish smart glasses designed for everyday use to stream audio and make hands-free phone calls (with no need for earbuds) via a touch interface embedded into the arm of the frames.

Silicon Valley remained a place to make silicon chips, in this case for wearable devices. For example, zGlue, founded in Mountain View in 2014, specialized in tiny chips that packed the most common features needed by fitness trackers: Bluetooth wireless radio, accelerometer, heart-rate sensor, thermometer, battery, and ARM processor.

click here for the other sections of the chapter "The Selfies (2011-16)"
(Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi)

Table of Contents | Timeline of Silicon Valley | A photographic tour | History pages | Editor | Correspondence