Recently, I traveled to Hong Kong to check in on the tech, fintech and start-up scene including the Hong Kong Trade And Development's Spring Electronics Fair. Just like any other trip, I fretted a bit over what to pack, what to wear? After all, Hong Kong is a fashion mecca, shopping destination, and everyone is wearing the latest trends.
What was everyone wearing this season in Hong Kong? Wearable technology, that's what!
Wearables are one of the hottest new frontiers in tech: Last year, 71 percent of 16-24 year olds reported wanting to don wearable tech according to a GlobalWebIndex survey written up in Forbes. And research firm IHS has predicted that global shipments of wearable tech will reach 130.7 million by 2018, a significant jump from 51.2 million in 2013.
It's part of the so-called "quantifiable self" movement: Older and younger generations alike want to use wearable technology to monitor their health and fitness, track their movements, navigate the world and alert loved ones in the case of emergencies. The market even includes military, industrial and infotainment applications.
With its advanced IT knowledge, access to manufacturing hubs, booming business environment and active co-working and incubator scenes, Hong Kong is playing an important role in the development of the wearable industry. Indeed, wearables were all the rage at Hong Kong's Electronics Fairs this Spring and last Fall. The Spring fair included a seminar titled "Wearable Electronics are in Vogue."
Some Hong Kong accelerators, which offer mentorship and support to startups, are even exclusively focused on wearables. For example, late last year, AIA Group, Hong Kong's largest insurer, teamed up with business incubator Nest to create an accelerator dedicated to startups working on health-care related wearables. The AIA-Nest Accelerator is a 12-week program in Hong Kong that will offer mentoring and support to eight entrepreneurs from Asia. The program began on March 2 and concludes on June 4, when the participants will present their offerings to an audience of investors. Working space will be available for the startups in the government-funded Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp.
What's more, some Western wearables hardware makers are heading to Hong Kong to get closer to the centers of manufacturing in Asia. Soundbrenner, for instance, a German company that makes a wearable, vibrating metronome for musicians, is one startup that recently moved to the territory. Though they developed its first prototypes in Germany, the founders felt that their geographic location was hindering them. After they met Manav Gupta, CEO of Brinc, a Hong Kong-based hardware accelerator, at a local pitch competition, they packed up and decamped for Hong Kong to join the accelerator's program.
Below is a sampling of a handful of Hong-Kong-based wearables companies, including one that has been around for decades and others that have just launched.
1. Simple Wearables is a health-care wearable based in Hong Kong that aims to protect the elderly and give their far-flung family members greater peace of mind. The device the firm offers can detect a fall, alerting emergency services to go to the rescue if necessary. The company is currently working with a hospital group to receive 100 products for testing in the Phillippines, where CEO and co-founder Angelo Umali's 92-year-old grandmother lives. Umali designed and built the application himself. He has degrees in electrical engineering from UCLA and Stanford, and this is his third company.
2. Clothing, which is based in both Finland and Hong Kong, specializes in wearable biometric sensors embedded in clothing. The company developed the first heartbeat and rate sensor for a shirt back in 1998, so it's been around for a while. Customers include Adidas, Garmin and Under Armour, among others, as well as some hospitals, who use Clothing+ to monitor heart beat and breathing in patients. The Clothing+ app also allows for the storage of data.
3. CityU Apps Lab and Hong Kong's CDAHK (Chiropractic Doctors' Association of Hong Kong) have developed an app called "Posture Check" to help consumers correct bad posture. The app requires the user to take two pictures of himself, one front and one side and line these up with a simple skeleton. The app then gives you feedback on your posture and suggests exercises you can do, along with chiropractic options. One of the challenges they faced was designing an app that was easy to use and would not cause anxiety if the analysis was off in the event of user error.
4. Faze In, another Hong Kong-based company, started to produce smart watches five years ago, and now it is working to develop devices that link with smartphones and tablets via mobile apps. Last year, the company launched its proprietary line of EZIO smartwatches, which features incoming call alerts, message and email notifications and an out-of-range alarm. The watches are designed in Italy, manufactured in China and sold in Southeast Asia and European countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK.
Want to be "in fashion?" Find out more about business development in wearables in Hong Kong, the support services available to wearables startups and growing demand for wearables among mainland Chinese.