Visitors don't have to walk far to find wearables at Computex, the big IT trade show taking place in Taipei this week. Dozens of companies from Taiwan and China are showcasing first-generation products -- a big change from last year when they got almost no attention.
The reason for this new attention is clear: Bullish industry projections put the wearables market at tens of millions of devices over the next few years. The market for smart wristbands was 1.6 million devices in the second half of 2013, and will rise to 45 million in 2017, according to Canalys.
If the analysts are correct, that could mean big business for the companies that eventually become leaders, so the race is on for a foothold before the market gets too crowded. But if this year's show indicates anything, it's that innovation is sorely lacking. The products on display were all variants of smartwatches and fitness trackers, although with a few twists on what's already available.
Acer Liquid Leap
Acer's smart wristband, the Liquid Leap, connects via Bluetooth to an Android phone to bring phone notifications and some basic audio controls to its tiny screen. At its heart, the Liquid Leap is a fitness tracker and includes a built-in pedometer and measurement of distance traveled and calories burned. It's due out in the third quarter but only with a companion smartphone, the Liquid Jade. Acer said it will consider selling the Leap on a stand-alone basis if there is enough interest.
Taiwanese manufacturer Netronix has developed its first smartwatch, which uses an e-ink display. This gives the device a battery life of between four and six days, at the cost of no color other than black and white. The 1.73-inch display, however, is a touchscreen. It works more as a companion device to a smartphone, and is able to display incoming messages and calls over Bluetooth connectivity. Netronix will start shipping the smartwatch in late August to its business clients, many of whom are in Europe. The product is made to be priced below US$100.
The S101 smartwatch from China's Galapad is one of the few on show that doesn't run Google's Android. It's currently running a proprietary operating system with basic features like a calculator, calendar access, messaging and phone controls. The 1.6-inch screen has a 240 by 240 pixel resolution, and the company says it will launch a new model with Google's new Android Wear operating system when it becomes available.
AiQ Digital Clothing
AiQ Smart Clothing, a company out of Taiwan, is showing off one of its latest solutions: a shirt that can monitor a user's vital signs. It works by weaving conductive fibers into the fabric that can help track the user's heartbeat. It's powered by an attachable battery that can also remotely upload the data to a device. The shirt can also be washed 100 to 200 times. AiQ said similar smart-clothing products will arrive later this year, although pricing and market will depend on its partners.
Guidercare Health Watch
Taiwan-based manufacturer Guidercare is launching a health-care wearable for the elderly. The Angel Smart GD-800 looks like other smartwatches, but it's also meant to monitor the user's health and location. The data is uploaded remotely to a caregiver's smartphone via an app, letting them monitor the user's health. The device will be priced below $300 and launch worldwide later this year through Guidercare's partners. It runs Android and has 3G connectivity to make phone calls, or alert a caregiver during emergencies.
Holux Heartrate monitor
Holux, a Taiwan-based manufacturer, is showing off a smartwatch geared for heartbeat monitoring. In the back of the watch's display is an optical heart-rate sensor that when on can last for 11 hours. Holux's watch is waterproof, weighs 25 grams and uses a 1.26-inch monochrome black screen. It can connect to a smartphone over Bluetooth to receive notifications as well. The company will start shipping the smartwatch to clients late in the year.
Oaxis Fitness band
Singapore-based Oaxis has developed a smartband meant to promote fitness. Called the Star 21, the product synchs with a company-developed mobile app that can be installed on a smartphone. The mobile app works by setting out goals for the user to complete over a 21-day period. The smartband itself can display the time in analog format. Oaxis sells its products to China and Southeast Asia, and expects the Star 21 to retail for $42 when it launches in July.
Swiss-based Kronoz is already selling several smartwatch models and wants to develop a large collection. The company is mainly selling in Europe, but is expanding to Asia Pacific and North America, including the U.S. The company's next-generation products, the ZeWatch 2 and ZeBracelet 2, will launch next month. Both devices connect to the smartphone via Bluetooth, and can display incoming calls and messages. They also work as pedometers to track steps taken and calories burned.
Taiwan-based Sonostar wants to sell its own wearable, simply called the SmartWatch, globally through online sales. The device has a 1.73-inch e-ink display, giving it three to five days of battery life. The curved display is a touchscreen, and meant to be readable under sunlight. Included are some apps that can track a user's exercise activities. It can also synch with a phone, and notify a user of incoming phone calls and other messages. Sonostar's device will be priced at $179 and be available in mid-July.
Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is [email protected]