Wearable technology: The new dress code

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Published: June 7, 2015 12:07:34 AM

With several launches in the past few months—and many more lined up in the near future—wearable devices are seeing a renewed growth surge. But is India ready for the advanced technology as yet?

THE WEARABLE technology market has never had it so good. Starting with the official launch of Apple’s much talked about smartwatch in April—although tech enthusiasts in India are still waiting to get their hands on the product—and propelled by other smartwatches like Motorola’s Moto 360 and Samsung’s Gear, wearable technology devices are seeing a growth surge like never before.

As per American IT research and advisory firm Gartner, nine out of the top 10 smartphone vendors have entered the wearables market to date or are about to ship a first product. About a year ago, the number was only two. As smartphone vendors and component suppliers continue to expand into the wearables market, Gartner predicts that, by 2016, smartwatches will comprise about 40% of consumer wrist-worn devices.

In India, however, the market is still in a nascent stage, with a handful of products such as smartwatches and fitness bands by handset makers such as Samsung, Sony, Motorola and Alcatel OneTouch being available till sometime ago.


All that may change now, or so it seems. In April, Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi launched its fitness device Mi Band, which went on sale on May 5 via its own e-commerce website. With a R999 price tag, the Mi Band is expected to provide a much-needed push to the country’s wearables market. On May 12, Micromax subsidiary Yu Televentures launched its YuFit fitness tracking band, touted to be a Mi Band competitor, with a similar price tag of R999. The company also unveiled another health tracker called HealthYu, which costs R4,999 and will go on sale in June.

On May 5, Timex—otherwise known as a traditional watch maker—made its foray into the digital space by launching the Ironman Run x20 GPS smartwatch and Ironman Move x20 fitness band, priced at R11,995 and R8,995, respectively. Amazon will be the sole distributor of these devices in India in the current year.

Taiwan-based handset maker HTC, too, plans to tap the wearables market by launching such devices in India by the year-end. The first device, which will be rolled out in the US and later in India, is called Grip, a fitness tracking band. Karbonn Mobiles, the third-largest smartphone vendor in India (as per a recent Canalys report), also has plans to foray into the Indian wearable devices market. Over the next year, the company plans to introduce one or two smart devices targeted at the wearable segment.

From traditional phone makers like Apple, Samsung and Motorola to non-tech companies like TAG Heuer and Timex, suddenly, everyone seems to be jumping on the wearable tech bandwagon. So are wearables really the next big thing? And is the momentum going to pick up further in the near future?

As per a study by Juniper Research, a mobile, online and digital market research company, global wearable computing device shipments are expected to increase to 150 million units by 2018, 10 times the number last year.

What’s driving this boom?

In India, the renewed interest is not without reason. In a recent Accenture Digital Consumer Tech Survey of more than 6,000 people in six countries, consumers in India ranked the highest in their keen interest in buying wearable technologies. Four out of five respondents in India, the survey found, “are willing to buy some kind of wearable tech”. Up to 80% of Indians were most interested in buying fitness monitors for tracking physical activity and managing their personal health, followed by smartwatches (76%) and Internet-enabled eyeglasses (74%), as per Accenture.

Globally, too, the survey found that over 50% of consumers are interested in buying wearable technologies such as fitness monitors. In countries such as Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, UK and the US, 52% showed interest in fitness monitors, 46% in smartwatches and 42% in buying Internet-connected eyeglasses.

As per a Ficci-PwC report, the wellness industry in India is estimated to touch R1,00,000 crore by 2015. “Clearly, Indians, just like people around the world, want to get fit. Hence, many brands and entrepreneurs are wielding wearable devices,” says Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO, GOQii. GOQii is a fitness coaching system, which operates on a subscription-based model. Consumers who subscribe for the services, get a free GOQii wearable band. It takes your data from various devices and apps, which is then given to a fitness coach, who works with you on the cloud to help you get fit.

“While existing apps, wearable gadgets and online solutions only provide simple data collection tools or diet-logging apps, leading to short-term results, GOQii integrates the ‘human factor’ via a GOQii personal coach, who works with the user’s data to provide customised advice on a regular basis to keep the user motivated and on track,” explains Gondal. Commercially launched in India in mid-2014, GOQii has close to 10,000 paying users in less than a year.

“Wearables are definitely the next thing in technology. Gradually, you will see how the demand for wearables is increasing in India. We have a number of products in the labs and are looking at various propositions with different brands. The kind of response we have received is incredible,” says Faisal Siddiqui, president, HTC, south Asia.

HTC’s Grip is a GPS-enabled fitness tracker. This is the first product from HTC’s partnership with the US-based Under Armour and will be used to keep track of running and other workouts. “HTC has always been known for its innovation. While we see a demand for such wearable devices in the US, the market is very nascent in India. However, we are hopeful that the momentum will pick up in India as well,” adds Siddiqui.

What are the challenges?

Amidst this transition, the industry is experiencing growing pains, especially when it comes to the ‘out-of-box’ experience, says the Accenture Digital Consumer Survey 2015. An alarming 83% of the people purchasing intelligent devices have difficulty using them. The difficulties range from finding them too complicated to struggling to set them up—problems encountered soon after opening the box of the new device. As per the survey, 24% said the products are too complicated to use, 22% said they did not set up properly and 21% said they don’t work as advertised.

As per Gondal of GOQii, the important ingredients for any technology to be successful are ease of use and right pricing. “Experts say more than 80% of people quit fitness efforts within a couple of months. Mostly, that is because a fitness regime can be a lonely pursuit. When it comes to fitness bands, industry data suggests that more than 40% of users tend to discontinue usage after a few months,” he adds.

The potential for wearable devices is incredibly exciting, says Asim Warsi, vice-president, marketing, mobile and IT, Samsung India. “Wearable devices that combine connectivity, convenience and stylish design will be popular. The next-generation wearable devices will enhance the freedom of mobile communications, while seamlessly integrating in everyday consumer lives,” he adds.

“The challenges could be many, especially at a time when we are looking at transforming everyday experiences like travel, attending a game, meeting friends or even shopping,” offers Siddiqui of HTC. “The demand for these products is very vulnerable right now. In India, the biggest challenge would be to establish the right market, and position wearables with the right target audience,” he adds.

Some doubt was cast over the viability of the space when Google said it was ending its current version of Glass. But products by Samsung, Apple and other manufacturers highlight that tech giants are not shying away from wearables.

“The era of wearable devices has dawned on us, with wearable technology broadening the scope of human interaction with technology. It is fairly evident that wearable technology is here to stay and is only getting bigger with each passing day. Wearable devices are expected to become an intrinsic part of our lives, health, well-being and entertainment,” says Warsi of Samsung India.

Samsung has been at the forefront of wearable technology for quite sometime now. It heralded a new revolution in the space when it launched its Gear smartwatch in late 2013. Today, the Korean tech behemoth has a strong portfolio of five Gear devices, with the product range priced from R5,490 to R24,900.

New kids on the block

In India, wearables may not have yet created a big buzz compared to the West, but a few Indian startups have already made their presence felt in the market, while some others are silently working to offer cheaper alternatives. The domestic market, in particular, has seen early signs of adoption of wearables over the past one year.

Lechal is one such product. Initially conceived as a navigational device for the visually impaired, the product has gradually evolved into what it is today: “the world’s first interactive haptic footwear that allows you to navigate hands-free and also tracks your fitness metrics”, offers Krispian Lawrence, CEO, Ducere Technologies, which makes Lechal.

“When we started in 2011, the product was just an idea, a concept we wanted to explore, but the more we explored, the more prototypes we built and the more we tested, the more we realised that the product could be and should be used by everyone,” adds Lawrence.

Similarly, the idea of Lumos’ solar backpacks was born out of a conversation between Gandharv Bakshi and his wife and co-founder Lavina Bakshi. “When you spend time outdoors in India, you realise that your backpack becomes quite hot. Lavina also observed that I was always complaining about my draining phone battery. So she utilised—she was in the fashion field—special kinds of fabric (including solar fabric) to tap the backpack’s energy through which I could charge my phone on the go. The backpack, too, didn’t get hot. This way, Lumos was born,” explains Gandharv Bakshi.

Lumos’ products see interest mostly from bikers and cyclists. Bakshi doesn’t think starting a wearables company is a challenge. Neither is selling wearables, at least to early adopters, he says. “However, sustaining is a different thing. There was an infamous prediction in the 90s that there is a market for only 10,000 mobile phones in the world. That was proven wrong by a figure that went beyond one’s imagination. But that is also because mobile phones started doing more than just be mobile versions of the traditional landline phones. We think history will play out here too. We will see wearables doing a lot more things over the next five to 10 years,” he adds.

Wearable tech is here to stay and is only getting bigger. These devices are expected to become an intrinsic part of our lives.

Asim Warsi, Vice-president, marketing, mobile and IT, Samsung India

The challenges could be many. In India, the biggest challenge would be to establish the right market, and position wearables with the right target audience.

Faisal Siddiqui, President, HTC, South Asia

Indians, just like people around the world, want to get fit. GOQii integrates the ‘human factor’ via a GOQii personal coach, who works with the user’s data to provide customised advice.

Vishal Gondal, Founder and CEO, GOQii

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