Technology is moving towards a more compact and multi-functional form factor. This is why wearables have come a long way. Smartwatches, virtual reality (VR) glasses, augmented reality (AR) gadgets and activity trackers are some examples of mainstream wearable products. However, there is a new product in the market, the smart ring, that is swiftly gaining popularity. The device, as the name implies, has the form of a traditional ring, but is outfitted with advanced motors, chipsets and other components such as near-field communication (NFC) technology, proximity sensors and motion sensors.
Smart rings have been in the market for roughly a decade. However, the first of its kind, named the NFC Payment Ring, which was launched in August 2016, was not successful. But now, the increasing demand for internet of things (IoT) devices and the need for real-time data collection and analysis are driving the growth of the smart ring market. While not as popular as other wearables, smart rings could be the future of wearable technology.
Smart rings are commonly used to monitor a wearer’s health and fitness data, and can also be used for digital payments, internet security and access control to areas such as houses or offices. Their major features include:
- Sleep monitoring: Sleep-tracking rings can provide detailed information about your sleeping habits, including sleep patterns, amount of sleep, amount of time in different sleep cycles and sleep disruptions. All the data can be analysed to generate recommendations for better sleep. When compared to other wearables, such as a smartwatches, sleep tracking with a smart ring is less restrictive and cumbersome.
- Fitness tracking: Aside from sleep tracking, a ring with fitness-tracking functions can track your daily activities. It can track your steps, distance travelled and calories burned. Some models incorporate advanced features such as electrodermal activity sensors. It allows the smart ring to track cognition and emotion through the skin. As a result, these devices may help with stress management.
- Contactless payments: The smart ring revolution was greatly aided by the development of contactless payments. These rings can be used to make fast and secure payments with a wave of one’s hand. They can be connected to a credit/debit card.
Smart rings and other wearables have several functions in common. Nonetheless, there are a few use cases where a smart ring outperforms a fitness band or a smartwatch. First, smart rings are smaller and less noticeable than other wearables. Notably, they can blend well with other types of jewellery too. Second, unlike smartwatches and smart bands, these devices do not require the user to learn a new user interface. This is because they do not have any kind of display. Most companion apps in smart rings have a very user-friendly interface, making them a little easier to use than other wearables. Third, a finger ring has access to arteries that a smartwatch does not. Hence, the health-related data received for analysis is more accurate. However, there are significant drawbacks to a ring’s form factor, such as the lack of a display and hence the ability to check and respond to notifications and alerts. Rings are also more likely to fall off than watches, which are normally more securely fastened. Another significant problem with smart rings is making sure they fit precisely. A minuscule gap could alter the data that these gadgets receive from the finger.
Devices in India
In India, two domestic manufacturers, Boat and Noise, are bringing their smart rings to the Indian smart wearables market after competing against Apple, Samsung and Huawei with affordable wearables. While wrist-worn wearables remain popular in India, these two domestic manufacturers are counting on consumers who are highly concerned with health and sleep tracking.
- Noise: Noise is launching the Noise Luna Ring in the Indian market in 2023, which is capable of tracking over 70 metrics. The Luna ring is a finger-worn alternative to smartwatches and smart bands, which are normally worn on the wrist. As a result, it is stealthier, being only 3 mm thick, and is said to be suitable for every skin type due to its hypoallergenic, smooth inner shell. The Noise Luna ring is compatible with both Android devices (Android 6 and above) and iPhones (iOS 14 and above).
- Boat: The Boat Smart Ring Gen 1 allows for single-handed use and can be controlled via simple swipes and taps. It has several touch control functions, including finger controls for music playback, remote control of the shutter of a connected phone camera, and navigation of short-form video apps by swiping. The Boat Ring is priced at Rs 8,999 and will available for purchase from August 28, 2023 via e-commerce sites.
- Pi Ring: The Pi Ring and the latest Pi Ring Pro are personalised health companions that combine sleep insights, heart rate monitoring, activity tracking, disease monitoring and more into a single tool. The main difference between the Pi Ring and the Pi Ring Pro is that the latter is sleeker and slimmer, with longer battery life and higher data accuracy.
Remarkably, smart ring designers have created sizing kits with a few average finger sizes that they deliver to customers to ensure the right fit.
In 2022, India shipped 100 million wearables. The trend is projected to continue in 2023, where the second quarter has already seen 32.8 million units shipped, as per International Data Corporation India.
The two biggest wearable manufacturers in the country, Boat and Noise, have recorded market shares of 26.6 per cent and 13.5 per cent respectively during the second quarter of 2023. The companies plan to capitalise on the booming wearables market. To this end, Boat has imported 5,000 units for its initial sale of smart rings, and expects to ship between 50,000 and 100,000 units in the first year.
Smart rings could be the inevitable future of wearable technology. On the global stage, Apple is rumoured to be developing its own smart ring. Although an Apple ring is yet to appear in the market, the revelation of its smart ring patent will catapult the IoT and wearable businesses to new heights. According to a patent submitted by the company, Apple’s smart ring might be part of a system that adds functionality to other Apple devices such as the Apple Pencil and its latest AR/VR headset, Pro Vision.
Samsung has also registered a patent for its own smart ring, and a trademark has been granted for the Galaxy Ring. Samsung will pair the device with a phone application like it currently does with Galaxy Watch bands, and the patent might have applications in extended reality devices as well. Given the company’s track record for pioneering tech, the Galaxy Ring is expected to catalyse a significant shift in the wearables market.
With several advantages, it is no surprise that this piece of jewellery is gaining popularity all around the globe. New-age IoT wearable rings are expected to gain traction, as they are aesthetically appealing and boast a variety of functions that make them ideal for anyone desiring the convenience of a wearable gadget without the bulkiness of a traditional smartwatch, due to their compact size and unobtrusive design.
However, the case for smart rings needs to be convincing, and their supremacy needs to be long-lasting. The miniaturisation associated with smart rings poses unique challenges, as it involves scaling down sensors from those used in smartwatches. Manufacturers need to address the challenges associated with smart rings, including limited battery life, high cost, limited compatibility, and security and privacy concerns, to increase their adoption rate.