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Getting a grip on wearable devices

Updated: 2014-10-26 13:40
By Gao Yuan (China Daily Europe)

Getting a grip on wearable devices 

Two visitors inspect a display of wearable electronic devices at an information technology expo in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. Provided to China Daily

As smart-band popularity grows, Chinese vendors put low-cost products on cluttered market

If you are unsure how quickly technology changes people's lives, look at the cellphone you are using.

Many of us can hardly imagine a life without a handset nowadays, although as recently as 20 years ago, phones could do only one thing - call each other.

Now some people simply cannot leave their smartphones for even a few minutes. Technology dependency has fundamentally changed the way people manage their daily lives.

Just as we are getting used to life with smartphones, technology cannot wait to attach more devices to our body. Tech is targeting your wrist - and, in some cases, your eyes as well.

Wearable devices, just as smartphones were a few years back, are eagerly welcoming people to try them on.

Some customers are already prisoners of this new technology because once one has a wearable on the body, the device becomes addictive and hard to take off.

According to Canalys, an industry researcher, wearable-band shipments will reach 43.2 million units next year, representing 129 percent year-on-year growth.

China is among the most quickly growing markets for wearable devices in the world.

According to research company Analysys International, sales in revenue of the Chinese wearable device market is set to hit 2.2 billion yuan ($358 million, 280 million euros) this year, up from only 900 million yuan last year.

Apple Inc will be the biggest driver behind wearable band shipments in 2015.

"By creating a new user interface tailored to its tiny display, Apple has produced a smartwatch that mass-market consumers will actually want to wear," says Daniel Matte, a Canalys analyst.

"The sleek software, variety of designs and reasonable entry price make for a compelling new product. Apple must still prove, however, that the final product will deliver adequate battery life for consumers."

Industry insiders segment the wearable market into smart bands, which are capable of running third-party applications, and basic bands, which are not.

Many market observers have asked why consumers would want a smart band at all, demanding compelling use cases.

Seeking to address these concerns, Apple has demonstrated a variety of use cases across health and fitness, personal communication and other areas, including mapping software for walking, workout and activity tracking, and mobile payments.

Low-cost Chinese vendors are increasingly playing a role in the market for wearable bands. Xiaomi Corp has attempted to dramatically lower the price of basic bands with its Mi Band.

Xiaomi's band sells for 79 yuan, one of the cheapest products from mainstream vendors.

Analysts believe Android Wear, an operating system designed by Google for smartwatches and other wearables, will quickly increase its market share once it enters China. Most of the nation's hardware makers are using the Android system.

Google Inc must greatly improve its wearable platform over the coming years to better compete with Apple's new offerings. Wearable bands from all vendors are trying to deliver a clearer value to consumers beyond the existing capabilities of smartphones in order to lure buyers to buy an additional device.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a telecom equipment maker based in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, has released its very own wearable - a fitness-focused band called the Huawei Talkband B1. The company hopes the waterproof, dust-resistant device will attract buyers who love outdoor activities.

Its near-field communication and Bluetooth capabilities also enable the band to be constantly connected with the smartphone the owner is using.

"Eventually, however, stronger smart band competitors to the Apple Watch will likely emerge and push smart band pricing down, threatening the basic bands," says Chris Jones, vice-president and principal analyst of Canalys. "This market will undergo disruption similar to that suffered by feature phones when smartphone prices fell."

"The basic band vendors, such as Fitbit and Jawbone, will enjoy the advantages of their lower pricing for the immediate future," Jones says.

The wearable device that really caught the world's attention was Google Glass, a conceptual product developed by online search provider Google. Because of the product's high price and slow pace in building application stores, a number of Chinese vendors are launching Google Glass opponents this year.

Baidu Inc, the world's largest Chinese-language search-engine provider, unveiled its very first wearable device last month. Baidu Eye, similar to Google Glass, has a built-in camera that can recognize a number of products and provide item information via an earpiece or smartphone.

Although the hardware does not include a display like the one on Google Glass, Baidu obviously has high hopes for the device.

"This is like an extension of your eye, a third eye or second brain," says Gu Jiawei, the designer of Baidu Eye. "For our company, the shopping mall is the most attractive business setting. Consumers will be able to see detailed product information and get online comments with the help of this gadget."

Lenovo Group Ltd, a company best known for personal computer and laptop products, is also navigating its way into the wearable-devices market.

It teamed up with Vuzix, a US smart glasses manufacturer, to bring the M100 Smart Glasses to the Chinese market.

Targeting high-end Chinese consumers, the glasses will be co-branded and will include mapping, voice recognition, Mandarin and local cloud services.

Vuzix CEO Paul Travers says China is significant both for the US company and for the wearable industry.

He eyes a deeper partnership with the Chinese company, saying Lenovo's global channel networks will help Vuzix sell Smart Glasses outside China.

Chen Xudong, senior vice-president of Lenovo, explains why Lenovo chose to roll out wearables with partners instead of developing its own products.

"We cannot make all the products even though we know some of the devices are clearly profitable," Chen says, adding that the startups in the Internet of Things sector will help Lenovo build a market and simultaneously enjoy returns.

Lenovo plans to buy shares in or set up joint ventures with global startups to introduce more wearable devices and wirelessly connected products, challenging Apple and Samsung Electronics Co.




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