India Inc India Inc: Wednesday, 08 April 2015 07:43

Tech Speak with Nitin Dahad - Smart wearable tech is the next wave for mobile industry

by Nitin Dahad

It’s now clichéd to say that mobile technology is becoming a fundamental part of almost every aspect of life. This was certainly evident at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, which was attended by over 93,000 people. The key trend this year was around connected devices – watches, fitness bands, fashion, health monitoring devices, and so on. It was also clear that wearable technologies are now going mainstream, and growth in this market will continue with the subsequent hype around the launch of the Apple Watch.

India will itself be a key part of this ecosystem as chip manufacturers like Qualcomm, Broadcom and Intel are developing devices for the wearable and Internet of Things (IoT) products for local markets too. Speaking in the Economic Times recently, Intel's South Asia director of marketing and market development, Sandeep Aurora, said the company is building system-on-chips for wearables and IoT at its Bengaluru R&D centre: "A lot of action is happening on this front and we have a robust roadmap for these market segments. India will be adding value to the whole wearable market in a significant way."

Wearables are now an integral part of any original equipment manufacturer’s product portfolio. At the conference, I saw numerous smart bracelets and smartwatches. In India, sales of wearable devices such as smartwatches and fitness bands was around 100,000 units in 2014, and this will grow to slightly over half a million in 2015, according to Counterpoint Research.

Recent global forecast data from International Data Corporation (IDC) on wearable devices says vendors will ship a total of 45.7 million units in 2015, up 133.4 percent from the 19.6 million units shipped in 2014. By 2019, total shipment volumes are forecast to reach 126.1 million units. A key driver for this growth in 2015 is an increased focus on smart wearables, or those devices capable of running third-party applications.

These include devices like the Apple Watch, Motorola's Moto 360, and Samsung's Gear watches. The total volume of smart wearables will reach 25.7 million units in 2015, up from the 4.2 million units shipped in 2014. Basic wearables, or those devices that do not run third party applications, will grow from 15.4 million units in 2014 to 20.0 million units in 2015.

Wrist-worn wearables, including bands, bracelets, and watches, will account for more than 80 percent of all wearable device shipments. Behind wrist-worn products are modular wearable devices, or those devices that can be worn on any part of the body with a clip or a strap. Clothing is the third category and is expected to grow the fastest as companies embed computing power into items like shirts, socks, hats, and other products with computing power. I saw many prototypes of such products at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the Wearable Technology Show in London last month.

This is just the beginning of the wearable industry

One graphic I saw at Mobile World Congress summed up the concept of wearable technology – it showed an image of an ecosystem connecting ‘Human to Cloud’. Wearable technology involves collecting data from something being worn by a person, and delivering that to the cloud for some kind of action or feedback.

According to the organizers of the Wearable Technology Show, the market is young but it’s already estimated to be worth $14bn and analysts believe this will rise to over $70bn by 2024. “Wearables are here to stay and we are about to see them become more intrinsic to our lives – our health, wellbeing and entertainment. We are also about to see them move from mainly consumer applications to having a much bigger impact on industry,” said a statement from the organizers.

In fact, Sara Kami Shirazi, product marketing manager for companion products at Sony Mobile Communications, said to The Next Silicon Valley magazine in Barcelona, “This is just the beginning of the wearable industry. Today’s wearable is just the embryo of what’s to come.” She spoke about Sony’s philosophy to wearables which is about ‘modularized thinking’ – providing core products which can be customized by the customer to their own taste or preference.

That is why Sony, she says, has developed a product portfolio in which each product is customizable. “The market is moving towards customized wearables,” she added. She also said that no matter how good the product is technologically, the key to a successful product is finding the right balance between technology and design. She added that wearables are just a small part of the ecosystem – that the products are also an entry point into the connected home, and its future would involve use with smart eyeglasses.

The company’s president, Hiroki Totoki, also talked about the value of wearables in industry. He commented, “The biggest benefit of wearable technologies is that they free up both hands. So we will be looking at what kind of workers want information on a real-time basis, in what kind of circumstances and what information they need.”

Testament to this, Virgin Atlantic announced an innovative trial with Sony Mobile Communications to test how new wearable technology can help improve the airline’s maintenance and engineering processes. Engineers working on Virgin Atlantic aircraft at the airport and in the hangar will test Sony’s SmartEyeglass Developer Edition SED-E1, tablet, mobile phone and SmartWatch 3 in an eight-week trial at London Heathrow, to test how the technology can be used for real time communication between the engineering team on the aircraft and in the engineering support areas.

Using Sony’s SmartWear alongside a smart phone or tablet will remove paper from some engineering processes and reduce the journey times between an aircraft and technical control. This will enable the engineers and technicians to remain on the aircraft during turnarounds – helping to save valuable time, as well as make a significant contribution to Virgin Atlantic’s targets to reduce paper waste.

Engineers will be able to take pictures or video of the tasks they are working on. This will be linked to an app running on a smartphone which will allow the engineers to efficiently complete and submit a form requesting further technical assistance. Real-time video streaming will also allow office-based engineering staff to see a problem from the engineers’ point of view in order to provide more rapid technical assistance.

It’s clear that wearable technology has many different applications, and with the growth in connected devices, is going to be much more part of our lives. While some of us will see it today as just fitness bands, trackers, and smart watches, there’s a lot more to come that we may not even have imagined.

Nitin Dahad is a consultant and advisor to the technology, industrial and media sector, and to government agencies and trade organisations, to develop global market strategies and programs based on nearly 30 years’ experience across Europe, US, Asia and Latin America

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