Fitbit, Misfit, Jawbone, Oculus; pick a bit hitting wearable company and you’ll probably find them nestled in the bosom of California’s Silicon Valley, just the same as most other sectors of the technology kingdom.
But there other hotspots for trackers, smartwatches, brain trainers and the like in more unexpected parts of the world.
For a moment at Wareable, we’re going to forget about America – sorry America, we’ll remember you again in a minute – and zoom in to those other countries punching above their wearable weight to find out what’s happening where they are, and why.
There’s a a spirit of collaboration rather than competition in Canada that’s egging this wearable community on. The government is prepared to fund smart start-up ideas and there’s a good balance of in terms of designers and developers with the Montreal area a hotspot for smart clothing and the Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver regions more focused on the gadgets.
What’s particularly interesting is that it’s created a very strong drive to dream up new and original products rather than me-too devices.
Pebble is Canadian. Basically. CEO Eric Migicovsky is Canadian. The first Pebble product was made in Waterloo, Ontario, and was funded by a Canadian government program. It was even designed to work with the Canadian BlackBerry smartphone. Times have changed, of course, and it’s all moved down to Silicon Valley but the land of maple leaf and lumberjack was still where wearable inspiration struck.
The most well-known wearable product after that would have to be the brain-training Muse but the real reason for Canada’s inclusion in our world focus is because of the sheer volume of ingenious start-ups.
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Nymi is the bio-connected wearable looking to take care of all of our passwords and credentials to offer proximity authorisation and access to just about anything in your life that requires any proof that it’s you. It’s all down to being able to sense your ECG – effectively your heartbeat’s fingerprint; sure to turn up embedded into another, sexier wearable some time soon.
Elsewhere, Myo is Canada’s answer to gesture control hardware. Worn round your arm, unlike Kinect, it turns waving your limbs into channel hopping, turning up your music or anything you’d care to program in.
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Canadians are obviously dead keen on getting down to the gym as well with not one but three promising gym tracker devices in development. Gymtrack, Push and Hexoskin all have different approaches from your wrist to your shirt but all are set to get us training more efficiently and, therefore, probably a little less too! Imagine that.
And for the cycling enthusiasts, there’s Recon Instruments and its HUD which will offer all speed, acceleration, incline and GPS-type metrics that all dedicated two-wheel speedsters will enjoy.
There’s many more Canadians of note in this space that we didn’t have time to mention here but doubtless we’ll be focusing on them as they hit the shops.
Well, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Swiss watch industry and while not all of the luxury timepiece makers of the Alps are that keen to get with the times, you only have to look as far as Tag’s Jean-Claude Biver and his cheese cutting antics to see that they’re looking to make it big in the wearable tech world.
At the same time, the universities of Lausanne, Zurich and Geneva are churning out app developers and smart tech savvy professionals that will get to use that famous Swiss Made trademark on anything they wish to turn their hands to.
Chummed up with Google and Intel, Tag’s the obvious big player but there’s Breitling, Alpina, Frederique Constant, Mondaine and Swatch that have already shown their smartwatch hands. To date, it’s all been rather excellent. Watch this space for two Swiss movement-powered devices – the Nevo watch and the hybrid Kairos – still to come.
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Well, Noonee’s Chairless Chair is something of a wonder. Slightly reminiscent of a milking stool, these leg braces are designed to take the strain out of standing for too long. The hinged lengths allow you to sit down in apparently thin air with the weight transferred by the rods to the backs of your heels. Oh, and you can walk normally in them too. Maybe not great looking but a very clever invention to improve worker productivity.
Biowatch is a set of keys, wallet and password storage system in one. It recognises the unique pattern of the veins at your wrist and then allows Bluetooth communication with your devices to unlock, identify and authorise anything you need. It’s available either as a device in its own right or a module for your favourite smartwatch.
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Xsensio is a spin-off company from the Nanolabs of the Swiss Institute of Technology in Zurich and it’s not wearables that it’s thinking of – it’s invisibles. The plan is to create highly-miniaturised stamps to stick on our skin and measure electrolytes, metabolites, small molecules and proteins. Get that right, and we can have a much better daily awareness of our body chemistry, and what we can do to improve it.
Big on outdoor pursuits and healthy lifestyle, it’s perhaps not too surprising that the Nordic countries are something of a hotbed for wearable technology.
Finland, with around half the population size of its Scandinavian neighbour Sweden, boasts not only two leading connected fitness brands but so many start-ups and up and coming businesses you should look out for.
Polar created the world’s first wearable heart rate monitor way back in 1982, five years after the company was founded. Since then, it’s added fitness trackers and cross training products as well as running, cycling and multisports devices too. Ask Wareable’s resident fitness expert, Kieran Alger, and you’ll find that the Polar M400 is top of his must-wear list.
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Compatriot corporation Suunto is something of a slightly different class. With a James Bond-type spectrum of activities, it represents the luxury, but not gratuitous, end of sports wearables. The company began making military compasses back in the 40s and over the years added in functionality for diving, sailing, golfing, hiking, mountaineering, alpine skiing and all running, cycling and fitness needs too. The Finnish Première wears one and you wish you did too.
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Clothing+ got the ball rolling in 2001 after successfully producing the world’s first heart rate-sensing shirt. Now with 300 employees in offices in both Finland and China, it supplies sports-based wearable tech to brands like Adidas, Under Armour and Garmin. As well as Suunto and Polar, of course.
Omegawave is, again, sports-focused but it’s all about getting professional athletes up to speed. It doesn’t make sensors, but instead is a high-end platform that can collate all the team and individual data you can throw at it to ensure that your next training session is precisely tailored to the condition of your body that day.
For the elderly sector of the population, Finnish company Everon is beavering away at providing GPS and alarm wearables to monitor personal safety to ensure as much independence for older generation as possible.
With an enormous and economically upwardly-mobile population, India is becoming a wearable technology force both in terms of device production and also as a consumer base too.
Some of the crowdfunding ideas might seem fanciful but it looks like the young app developers of the sub-continent have set their sights on all things connected self.
There’s not a huge amount of wearable heritage in India as it stands but its manufacturing capital city of Chennai has been knocking out electronics for the likes of Samsung, Dell, Cisco, Texas Instruments, Siemens and Alcatel-Lucent for years.
With the Indian government embracing wearables via actual funding plus small start-up booster investors like Project Guerrilla, both the infrastructure and the money are in place, so long as the designers can come up with the right ideas.
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Far too many to mention; from Bangalore to Chennai, Hyderabad to Mumbai, the wearable start-up scene in India is going off in a big way. Goqii is one to look out for. It’s a fitness band offering an intriguing service that no one else is aimed at for the time being. Pay a yearly subscription and you’ll get a real, live personal trainer to give you health and fitness advice based on your recorded metrics.
Then there’s the Lechal smartshoe, which provides navigation by buzzing your feet to give you directions according to what you’re mapping on your phone. Naturally, there’s plenty of scope to add in pedometery and fitness sensing too.
And if you’re looking for a way to charge them up – along with any smartphones, bikes lights and GPS devices you might have on you – then fellow green shoot Lumos may come in handy. This solar-powered backpack series, designed with cyclists in mind, has already made it to market and has the subtlety, style and price to get a grip.
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Bangalore-based Connovate Technologies is also well worth a look. Head honcho Bahubali Shete has banded together a crack squad of IT pros each with around 25 years experience in the business. Their first product is Gecko, a Bluetooth IoT find-it-type token and there’s more connected tech on the way.
A society so completely outdoorsy that virtually all of its inhabitants live within spitting distance of the sea; Australia is all over wearable technology to see just what it can do to improve its beachfront lifestyle. There are start-ups by the dozen plus some established old hands to guide them along.
Sports crazy, the AFL is one of the most wearable-conscious pro-games with the players wired for just about every stat you could manage and the coaches with mountains of data to mine. Let’s just pray they don’t crack cricket wearables before we do!
Catapult Sports is a multinational superstar with offices of employees dedicated to fitness and tactical analysis. It counts half the NFL, a slew of football teams from Dortmund to Dundee and hundreds of others in rugby, basketball, hockey, rowing and more as clients.
Away from sports, the Aussies are also well up on design with the fashion-focused Wearable Experiments team of Ben Moir and Billie Whitehouse on a mission to make technology something we can put into our clothing as seamlessly as a button or clasp.
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Akanz is an Australian company looking to make wearables become part of our daily lifestyle. Its first product is the 18K gold Plumora smart bracelet. Much like Altruis from the UK’s Vinaya studio, it’s about providing a tasteful way to keep you connected to your emails, phone calls, appointments and messages.
The Forcite Alpine is another promising piece of wearable sports kit courtesy of Alfred Boyadgis. It might finally manage to make the ski slopes smart in a way that Oakley and pals haven’t so far. Packed with a mic for talking to your mates, a 1080p action cam to capture them falling over and measures of altitude, location and performance, it’s certainly got all the features to tear it up when it launches.