In 2015, the same year Apple launched its smartwatch, it launched a Kickstarter campaign for a completely different kind of wearable device, a wellness tracking ring called Oura.
Seven years later, the Apple Watch is the most popular wearable device, with other similar products from Google and Samsung also dominating the wearable market. But there is something remarkable going on. Products like Oura, which look and function significantly different from mainstream wearables, are seeing renewed interest.
Oura Ring ($399) saw a surge in sales during the pandemic and continued momentum this holiday season, CEO Tom Hale told CNN Business. It provides sleep tracking data and can detect subtle changes in body temperature without the need to wear a smartwatch to go to bed. Also no screen. Earlier this year, the company announced it had reached his $2.55 billion valuation, and has since rolled out partnerships with Gucci, Strava, and other brands.
The Ring is one of a small but growing group of alternative wearable devices, such as screenless fitness band trackers and headphones that don’t need to be worn in your ears. Some of the demand is due to changes during the pandemic, when consumer interest in health monitoring has surged. People rely on activity trackers, smartwatches, and other devices to keep track of things like steps taken and important stats. Many were willing to experiment with different form factors as long as they provided accurate data and were happy with the trends that continue today.
Interestingly, most of these devices have been around for some time, but have slowly established themselves in recent quarters, said Ramon Llamas, research director at IDC Research. But word of mouth takes time to spread.
These devices can also take advantage of the desire to get the benefits of wearable trackers without having to wear a screen or device on the body all the time.
Take the WHOOP band, screenless health trackers that first appeared in 2015. We are very focused on workout recovery, rest periods, training and coaching. Founder and CEO Will Ahmed said his Cyber Monday this year was his biggest sales day yet, he told CNN Business.
It wasn’t that long ago that we only wore health monitors if something was wrong. Now, he said, he sees people taking a more proactive approach to their health. This trend has continued even after the pandemic subsided.
Like Oura, WHOOP is a subscription-based device, targeting a more niche audience. It’s also expensive, at $480 including a two-year subscription plan.
The challenge is that most of these devices are vying for single-digit market share behind the market leaders. [such as Apple and Samsung]said the lama. So having a well-differentiated segment that you can serve almost exclusively is important. Companies like WHOOP are successful because of their focus on rest and recovery for athletes, which is a key factor for many athletes today.
Ahmed said the product is evolving to support growing health concerns by adding new features related to pregnancy, stress and deeper biometric monitoring. In August, WHOOP announced he had raised $200 million in a funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, bringing the company’s valuation to his $3.6 billion.
Health-tracking devices also continue to take on new shapes and sizes, including ones that don’t need to be worn at all. Announced Halo Rise, a wearable sleep tracking monitor. Meanwhile, some companies, such as Withings, allow users to slip sensors under their mattresses to collect sleep data.
There is also a shift in demand for headphones, arguably one of the original wearables.
According to Steve Konig, director of research at the Consumer Electronics Association, bone conduction headphones that have been around for years, like Oura, are now ticking. Bone conduction headphones should be placed in front of the ear and left uncovered, rather than sitting in or on top of the ear canal. They send sound along the user’s bones and jaw to the ear rather than directly into the ear canal. The headphones also feature a soft band behind the top of your neck to help keep them in place and minimize sound distortion.
At the same time, the exposed ears allow users to pick up sounds and environments around them. This is important for your safety when doing activities such as biking or jogging. You don’t have to worry about popping out of your ears like earphones.
Shokz ($125) pioneered bone conduction headphones, but the market has since been expanded by other brands offering similar designs. Open He earbuds, such as those designed by Sony and Bose, feature a similar design that leaves the ear canal completely open to allow the user to hear outside noise. But some audiophiles say bone conduction headphones and open earbuds don’t sound great.
According to Konig, the past decade has seen a surge in audio innovation in general, with the introduction of new features such as noise-cancelling technology and built-in wireless capabilities. People now own multiple personal listening products for different locations and uses. Some people keep it in the office, while others prefer something big and sturdy on the plane. They also make great holiday gifts as they are pretty reasonable to buy in the grand scheme of gift giving.
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