LAS VEGAS — Everywhere you looked at this year’s International CES, you saw a wearable device. New players, new upgrades, new colors, designs and materials, and new capabilities were on display from start-ups, established CE brands and top fashion designer houses alike.
The nascent category was not the home run that some retailers expected in this past holiday season, but the potential of the category was obvious to anyone who walked the show. Momentum is gaining, and major new players like Apple jumping into the category this year can only help raise consumer awareness, according to retailers that spoke to TWICE.
Laura Orvidas, VP CE, Amazon.com, was upbeat about the category: “I’m a huge fan of wearables. We have 450 wearable technology SKUs, some of them exclusive to Amazon from some new manufacturers. We are excited about the category. It is still in its infancy in terms of adoption. I think there are still a bunch of consumers out there who are not quite sure how these interact with their devices or how they are going to help their health. The awareness is growing, and I think as we figure out how the data will help our lives we will continue to see adoption of the wearable technology.”
Fred Towns, president, New Age Electronics, said all the new activity in the category, including the launch of Apple’s Watch, will raise all boats. “The flood of new players entering the wearables market will raise awareness of the category and help consumers understand what products are available and which ones best fit their lifestyle. Fashion will play a big role in product adoption as so many options continue to come to market. Manufacturers that focus on design and incorporate color options will rise to the top. For sales to really take off, consumers need to experience the technology firsthand. Creating an exciting experience for consumers in-stores and deploying a knowledgeable sales team is critical for the success of this category.”
Ryan Ciovacco, president, connected solutions and CE, Sears Holdings, stressed connectivity as key. “Wearables and connected solutions are very similar in that it is not just awareness. It is also finding how these products work together. It is very difficult to really show in a video or in a box on a shelf, which is why we have launched three Connected Solutions test stores in Chicago, which are more experience-type centers. They are about 2,000 square feet. We have seen a lot of success there, and we are now expanding to 200 stores. Then what we will launch later this year, mid-year, will be our 4,000-square-foot big Experience Center in San Bruno, Calif. That is where we are really going to show how these products work together.”
Mehrdad Akbar, VP/DMM electronic services for Walmart, added: “It is doing well for us, but there is much more room in the space. Honestly, we are not even close to what we think we could be doing and should be doing for our customers, but we are learning from the experience.”’
Pictured on these pages are some highlights from CES, spanning the depth and breadth of the category. As New Age’s Towns concluded: “The fashion-ready products are a great way for retailers to mix things up to draw consumers in.”
Lenovo entered the wearable segment with the Vibe Band VB10, which connects via Bluetooth to Apple and Android phones to display notifications of calls, SMS, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat and other messaging apps, up to 200 characters, on a 1.43-inch E Ink display with more than 200 ppi. It also tracks fitness metrics and works with an app that lets users set goals and choose which notifications to receive. It is IPX7-rated to withstand immersion in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Users can customize the display with different watch faces.
Sports-watch brand Polar introduced its first activity tracker, the Polar A300, a much more affordable option than the company’s GPS watches. The A300 has a built-in pedometer to track daily steps and is compatible with the company’s heart-rate-monitoring chest straps. The tracking unit can be removed from the strap for wearing or carrying on a belt or in a pocket. It is weatherproof and comes in black, white or pink for $140, or $180 with an included heart chest strap.
The Activite Pop from Withings features two analog dials, one for time and a smaller dial showing the percentage progress toward a goal such as stapes taken. The watch also tracks swimming, running and sleeping. The watch connects to the Withings Health Mate application, which connects to more than 100 services from partner companies. It comes in three colors with a smooth silicon strap, watch battery that lasts up to eight months, and water resistance up to 30 meters.
The stainless-steel version of the Sony’s SmartWatch 3 rolls out globally in February. It features a 1.6-inch 320 by 320 TFT LCD transflective display for visibility in bright sunlight, IP68 waterproof rating, and charging via a standard MicroUSB port. To go with it, Sony unveiled a SmartWatch 3 holder that lets users add any standard 24mm watch strap. It will be available early this year. Android Wear allows for native music playback, intelligent sensor technology and built-in GPS sensor.
The e-Strap from luxury timepiece brand Montblanc is a clever solution for those not ready to take the plunge on a digital smart watch. It is an attachable second screen that sits on the underside of the wrist on the watchband, and tracks a wearer’s daily activity, delivers phone notifications on its screen and through haptic feedback, including messages, social-media posts and calendar reminders. It also can control a smartphone’s audio playback and camera.
An Audi press conference was not where one would expect to see a new LG smart watch but Audi’s Ulrich Hackenberg wowed the crowd by summoning a self-driving car on stage, using a modified version of LG’s G Watch R loaded with custom Audi software. In the near future, Audi drivers will be able to control in-car electronics systems with the watch.
MyBrain unveiled a helmet-like wearable called the Melomind that uses electrodes to measure brain waves and transmit the data to a connected app. The app then uses that data to play back custom-created musical tones through connected headphones to help the wearer relax and enter a meditative state. It is expected to be available in the fourth quarter and can be preordered for $299.