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Jawbone Isn't a Hardware Company Anymore, Says CEO Hosain Rahman (Video)

Hardware, like its wearables, is just a way to show off the technology, he says.

Asa Mathat

Hardware is hard. In fact, it’s so hard that wearable maker Jawbone would prefer to think of itself as a software and data company instead.

“We don’t consider ourselves … a hardware company anymore,” Jawbone founder and CEO Hosain Rahman said at the Code/Mobile conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

By tapping its software, Jawbone becomes a “huge data company.” Rahman claims that when the company aggregated and analyzed users’ data during an August 2014 earthquake in Northern California, even the White House took notice.

“We have more software engineers, data scientists, everything,” Rahman said. “The way we see hardware now is [that] it’s a way of showing the technology we invent.”

Jawbone started as a phone headset company in 2007, then added wireless speakers. It expanded to fitness trackers — the Jawbone Up — in 2011.

From the beginning, it hit giant hurdles with its wristbands, and the criticism has only grown in recent months. It has suffered manufacturing problems that have angered customers, and certain features — like activating sleep mode — are buggy. One of its latest versions, the Up3, earned withering reviews from critics who called it “spectacularly flawed” and “a work in progress.” And those reviews came after it had already shipped half a year later than expected.

But onstage, Rahman was quick to point out that one of its most recent versions has a 4.6-star review on Amazon. “This was the first time we went past cool versions of rubber,” Rahman said. “There’s all this promise of what you can do with the data, but you gotta get people to wear it.”

That’s one of the biggest issues with wearables. Onstage with Rahman, Re/code founder Kara Swisher said she had a “box of sad Fitbits,” all the smart wristbands she’s tested and cast aside.

“I don’t think this space is even close to having its iPhone moment,” Rahman replied.

Meanwhile, Jawbone is battling multiple lawsuits with its bigger competitor, Fitbit, whose CEO, James Park, will also speak at Code/Mobile. Jawbone is suing Fitbit, saying it stole intellectual property when it hired away former Jawbone employees. In September, Fitbit fired back with a lawsuit of its own, claiming Jawbone was infringing on its patents.

In short: Lots of drama with this company.

Despite the setbacks, Rahman has big dreams for the future of the wearables industry. “If you make it useful for people, there’s lots of business models,” Rahman said. “The ultimate goal is to help people live longer, live healthier, have lower medical costs — that’s the holy grail.”

He also pointed to ways that wearables could work with connected homes. If the Jawbone Up can read your temperature, heart rate and sleep cycle, perhaps in the future it can connect to your home thermostat or smart light systems.

“What I really want is, ‘I’m in this mood, so the lights should go there. … I’m going to bed, so the temperature should be here.’”

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