‘Smart’ Products Predominate in Hong Kong
In mid-April, more than 3,300 exhibitors from 25 countries and regions packed five levels of the Hong Kong Convention Centre for the Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Spring Edition) and ICT Expo. The floor was filled with everything from Bluetooth speakers to power strips to smartphone cases to smart humidifiers, but there were a few products that seemed to take over the show floor, either in number of options available or crowd interest.
The first product category that lit up the show floor (literally) was LED light bulbs—specifically, “smart” LED light bulbs. Even before many consumers are ready to make the jump from incandescent to LED, the industry is pushing towards making the bulbs useful for more than just illumination. Many vendors highlighted bulbs that can connect to your smartphone for custom control of color and brightness. And depending upon the bulb and its accompanying app, they can even be set to dim as you go to sleep, and slowly turn on as you wake up.
Perhaps the most interesting product in the category, however, was the MiPow PlayBulb (www.playbulbs.com). This smart LED light features an A2DP supported Bluetooth wireless speaker that can be controlled via the free Playbulb app available now for iOS and Android. The app controls the available LED colors (warm white and cool white), along with speaker settings such as the volume, EQ, etc., at a range of up to 10m (33 feet). The speaker offers a crisp 3W RMS with a frequency response of 135Hz to 15KHz—and uses the light fixture to direct the audio, so select wisely. MiPow suggests downward-facing ceiling lights, table lamps and certain outdoor fixtures.
Wearables at the Show
Wearable devices also received plenty of attention. Along with the numerous products available on the show floor, Henri-Nicholas Olivier, CEO of ConnectDevice Ltd. (www.connectedevice.com), presented a seminar on “The Growth of Connected Life,” focusing mainly on smart watches and fitness bands. Combined, these products have become a $60 billion market, but there’s a “dirty secret” the industry isn’t discussing much; According to Endeavour Partners (September 2013), sustained activity for wearables drops from 100 percent to less than 50 percent within three months.
Connected devices face a few hurdles for widespread implementation and sustained use, including the “Big Brother” effect. Do you want your watch manufacturer to know where and when you use certain features of the product? What will they do with that information? It’s likely the same thing Apple, Samsung and other phone manufacturers are doing with that information right now.
A hurdle more easily addressed by designers and manufacturers is how to integrate the technology into our lives, and to make it something people will want to use and show off. Fitness bands currently have a look about them; people wear them not only for the functionality, but to present the notion that they lead an active life (this is similar to how Toyota’s Prius met with more success than Honda’s Civic hybrid; with the Prius, owners were easily recognized as having concern for the environment, whereas you couldn’t easily tell with the Civic). On the other hand, Olivier feels that this has a negative effect—he’s found that some people will not wear fitness bands them because they don’t want to convey the message that they need to lose weight.
Another problem with smart watches in particular is battery life. “Each time a user has to charge a device,” Olivier stated in his presentation, “it’s an occasion to stop using the device.”
And finally, why would a user want a connected watch? According to Mary Meeker of KPBC, young Americans check their phones an average of 150 times a day. This can be intrusive, so you can check a connected watch more discreetly than you can by pulling a phone out of your pocket or purse. It’s more efficient.
Whether you want a smart watch to be tightly or loosely integrated with your smartphone, whether you want it to look “techie” or traditional, and whether you want your device to serve foremost as a watch or as an information tracker, “the battle for the wrist is on,” as Olivier put it. You’ve only got two of them, so choose wisely.