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IoT: The Year of More Wearables

All data points to 2016 being the year when wearables go from being a curiosity to mainstream must-have devices

From being a glimpse into the future to being within reach for almost anybody, wearables have come a long way. Dick Tracy called it first with his do-it-all watch. No longer the mainstay of just early adopters, we have seen the wearables market explode across the world spearheaded by the rapid adoption of fitness devices and smartwatches. India has certainly been a contributor to this growth, albeit just a drop in the bucket.

As hardware constraints get resolved via rapid technological innovations in the vertical and commoditisation begins, a very clear change in the wearable landscape is visible. The combination of design, aesthetics and improved technology must seamlessly integrate into a user’s lifestyle as the next step for an industry that is without a doubt on the upswing.

Categories Converge
Latest reports from Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (Gfk) forecast global smartwatch sales for 2016 to grow over 77 per cent year on year to touch 46 million units. According to the report, fitness wearables were projected to sell up to 25 million units in 2015, up from 14 million in 2014. This strong growth is, however, expected to slow down to 52 per cent year on year as do-it-all products like smartwatches encroach on the category. Fitbit, the most popular fitness wearable company by far, recently revealed at its Q3 earnings call that it sold 4.8 million units across its portfolio during the previous quarter. The numbers pale in comparison to a more holistic wearable like the Apple Watch which is estimated to have sold close to 2.3 million units during the launch week itself according to Chi Kuo of KGI Securities. Indeed, the Apple Watch was the one device that dominated wearable tech conversations for the majority of the year. This is indicative of a larger trend where we can observe a convergence of categories towards devices that focus not just on functionality but also on aesthetics. An internal survey done by TomTom showed that 75 per cent people wanted a fitness wearable that could also feature capabilities like music playback. This resulted in the launch of the Spark Cardio Music Watch, according to Hitesh Ahuja, country manager-Consumer, TomTom India.

Scratching The Surface
Wearables so far are just scratching the surface in terms of possibilities and capabilities. It would be fair to say that the hardware is really just an input, the real opportunities being on the services that bind them and make them an intrinsic part of a user’s lifestyle. Leaf Wearables, a popular wearable technology company from India, is taking the lead on this by partnering with jewellery brand Ziveg to offer a fashionable wearable that doubles up as a safety device. This fashion-first approach helps to make the device more appealing to he non-tech-inclined audience while being inconspicuous enough to not be an eyesore during day-to-day use. Stiletto is yet another company offering safety-focussed smart charms that can be worn as necklaces or pendants. Going one step ahead, it not only calls emergency services but can even receive text messages and other alerts. This transition from bulky wrist-bound devices to tech that can be disguised as jewellery is a major step towards mass adoption of wearables. Our conversation with QaizarHassonjee, vice-president of Innovation, Adidas veered towards the development of smart fabrics like those incorporated in the smart bra by Adidas. Along with the biometric bra by OMsignal which can capture health data that not only assists with everyday fitness but can also potentially keep a tab on long-term issues like breast cancer.

India Wears
A recent study from Greyhound Research estimates the install base for wearables in India to be below 5,00,000 while another report suggests that the wearable market in India will grow with a CAGR of 43.08 per cent in the coming five years. With a market structure that differs greatly from the West, it is no surprise that low-cost fitness trackers like those from Xiaomi have contributed greatly to that figure. Expensive devices and lack of compelling use cases beyond step tracking have led to sluggish adoption. The report suggests that price erosion to the tune of 40-60 per cent compared to early 2015 will also spur adoption. Here too, wearables that marry fashion and integrate deeper with the mobile OS will take the lead. The recent proliferation of smartwatches from the smartphone stalwarts such as ASUS, Samsung and Motorola is an indication. And more so from industries that have traditionally not been seen as competitors. At the upper end of the category we have seen TAG Heuer launch an Android Wear-powered device that takes on the Apple Watch, but it is India’s own Titan which could make a dent in the price conscious market. With the launch of their JUXT series of watches that combine analog styling with smartwatch capabilities, it could convert a fresh breed of users who would have otherwise shied away from an all digital device.

Engineers at the University of California have developed a new sensor that takes readings of skin temperature and combines it with measures of metabolites, electrolytes in sweat to point out fatigue and dehydration levels. Latest innovations in technology will provide data that is leaps beyond the very basic health monitoring that we have seen so far. Capturing this new data and mapping stress, fatigue and anxiety levels is of interest to consumers and enterprises alike. “Over 20 per cent large businesses in India are aiming to support wearable devices for their employees,” says Sanchit Gogia, CEO, Greyhound Research. This health data from wearables is of interest to enterprises to enhance efficiency. For individuals, reducing insurance costs through wearables data is enough of an incentive to promote a better lifestyle.

On a larger scale, improved data gathering can lead to better prediction of viral symptoms and assist in stopping them as well. The upcoming generation of health wearables will offer the right tools for this job.

All data points to 2016 being the year where wearables reach inflection point and go from becoming a relative curiosity to a mainstream and even a must-have device. Tying this down we can see that as hardware catches up to the already evolved software space, health and safety through technology will see an even greater focus amongst individuals and enterprises.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dhruv Bhutani

The author is a technology writer with FoneArena

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