One Smartring to Rule Them All? (What About a Smartwig?)

Niche Wearables Loom, Including a 'SmartWig' Hairpiece From Sony

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A Japanese startup is designing a smartring to lord over other gadgets.

Trace a dollar sign in the air and pay for your coffee. Write "TV" with your finger and your TV set turns on. Charge a subway fare. These are just a few of the applications envisioned by Logbar Inc., the Tokyo-based startup developing the device it says is scheduled for release this year.

While Apple and Google are building smartwatches and eyewear that will likely sell millions of units, startups like Logbar are developing niche products. As consumers seek new ways to integrate computers into everyday life, the market for wearable technologies will jump about 14-fold in five years to $19 billion, Hampshire, England-based wireless analysis company Juniper Research estimated in October.

"Making things has become easier," said Benjamin Joffe, a managing director at Haxlr8r, a venture fund that helps finance hardware startups and organizes boot camps in Shenzhen, China, and San Francisco. "The cost and timeframe have been compressed to the point that some startups can go to market with a new product in less than a year, way before a large company."

Logbar hasn't accepted venture capital funding, Chief Executive Officer Takuro Yoshida said. Its ring project does, however, have a snazzy video on Kickstarter, where it has received committments for $20,730 of a $250,000 goal. The company plans to offer the ring to developers from the middle of this year.

Finger apps will allow users to make gestures triggering commands executed through devices such as smartphones, Mr. Yoshida said.

Mr. Yoshida, who previously built an iPad app for a bar he ran that helped patrons interact by displaying what drinks they ordered, said he wanted to create a device that fostered communication. He declined to say what the smartring will be made from or provide more details about the gadget's apps.

"I've been focusing on connecting people in the real world, beyond the digital one," Mr. Yoshida said last month. "It's difficult to build personal connections at an application level, so I turned to hardware."

The number of smart devices that connect and talk to each other through Wi-Fi is expected to grow to 200 billion by 2020 from 2 billion in 2006, according to Intel Corp. That growth will be fueled by the ease with which gadgets can link up with phones and tablets through operating systems like Google's Android and Apple's iOS, said Anand Srinivasan, an analyst at Bloomberg Industries.

"It has become easy for a startup to design a wearable to address a specific issue and have it connect to a very defined ecosystem such as Android or iOS," Mr. Srinivasan said.

Samsung this month unveiled new Gear smartwatches using the Tizen operating system it helped develop with Intel. The advantage of the platform over others is that it was built to make devices more compatible with each other, Yi Woo Bok, a principal engineer at Samsung's software R&D Center, said in November.

Samsung, Asia's largest technology company, said Nov. 1 it shipped more than 800,000 Galaxy Gear units within two months after the timepiece went on sale. The company registered a design in South Korea in October for eyeglasses that can show information from a smartphone and enable users to take calls.

Really, Sony?
Sony Corp. is seeking a U.S. patent for a "SmartWig" hairpiece that could help navigate roads, check blood pressure or flip through slides in a presentation. Sony hasn't decided whether to commercialize the technology, according to Saori Takahashi, a Tokyo-based company spokeswoman.

Los Angeles-based startup Melon created a headband that records electrical activity along the scalp to measure brainwaves, recorded through a smartphone app. The company pre-sold more than 2,200 of the devices on Kickstarter and raised more than $290,000.

San Francisco-based Pebble Technology introduced a smartwatch that receives emails and text messages a year before Samsung released its $299 Galaxy Gear. Pebble raised more than $10 million on Kickstarter for a $150 smartwatch compatible with both Android and iOS.

~ Bloomberg News ~

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