Wearable Technology: How Ready Is African
OVER the course of 25 movies, Irish actor, James Bond used to mesmerise his audience with watches that can blow things up, receive and print messages. He was able to even watch videos with those watches. Today, smart watches can do much more.
These wonder technologies are equipped with instant notifications of emails, SMS, capacity to make and receive calls, and third party apps to keep the user connected. There are bras now that can detect breast cancer and phones with optical heart rate sensor to ensure that keep-fit addicts don’t jog beyond the lines. Welcome to the world of wearable technology.
Wearable device technology appears to be the new fad that is spreading across the world at the moment. With the IT market in Africa, especially Nigeria, on the rise, some market observers feel it will be a matter of time before players flood the market with their latest wave-making accessories – smart watches, glasses and fitness bands.
The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas in January and the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, clearly demonstrate how quickly wearable tech is developing and evolving as the future of the global market.
According to one of the world’s leading analyst firm, Canalys, in the first quarter of 2014, 2.7 million smart bands were sold globally. By 2017 this figure is anticipated to top the 45 million mark, with the total wearable tech market enjoying sales of 111.9 million units worldwide by 2018, according to International Data Corporation (IDC).
Samsung Electronics was the first mobile giant to introduce its wearable technology in the Nigerian market when it unveiled its Galaxy Gear Smart Watch last year. Ever since, other players are believed to be considering moving into different markets in Africa with their wearable tech.
Tech experts however believe that the influx of wearable devices like Google Glass and smart watches will open up new opportunities for marketing. Areas marketing experts are eyeing include enhanced customer data collection and insights into user interaction. Many experts also agree that various types of wearable technology will allow digital marketers to more easily collect information on the buying habits and locations of consumers.
In the words of the Communications Manager Africa at MasterCard, Birgit Deibele, “today, consumers are in the midst of a seismic shift, especially in the way they engage with payments, driven by convergence that allows convenience and inclusion for consumers and merchants. Consumers are navigating this new information-rich landscape, where the physical and the digital co-exist, in some very interesting ways. It is said that by 2020, the number of connected devices will likely reach 2020. This goes beyond smartphones to include PCs, TVs, tablets, games and now wearables like watches.”
Deibele noted that the lack of legacy systems is helping many countries leapfrog traditional infrastructure. This, according to her, can be seen in the adoption of mobile phones and how they are being used as banking products and tools to access essential services such as healthcare, among others.
She noted that the growth of innovation in consumer payments as well as other spheres in Africa means that the continent is well poised to join the technological bandwagon as the rest of the world is doing.
Lately innovations in wearable tech have been tilted towards health to ensure improved quality of life. U.S.-based company, First Warning Systems, developed BSE (breast self-exam) bras that help to make early detection of cancer – although this is not available in Nigeria yet. Fitness tracking devices such as Runtastic Orbit, Basis Peak, have also been recognised as best overall fitness tracker for runners, and heart rate tracking respectively. The sports industry is also a frontrunner in the use nano technology in textiles to monitor athletes’ performances in Europe.
Now the question is, are African companies prepared to embrace wearable tech? Can wearable tech create new business opportunities in the continent considering the huge tech market growth?
A survey conducted among different socio-economic class in Lagos revealed that many tech-freak consumers are interested in wearable tech especially in security, health, sports and automobile industries. However, a significant number of respondents still have low awareness on the evolving phenomenon.
According to Digital Idea Strategist at R2TV, Promise Nwaubani, the African market is ready for wearable tech because “we are generally innovation crazy. We love to consume new things and wearable tech isn’t different”.
He stated that for those who can afford to purchase such wearable technology, they would adjust to new trend especially if it is in sync with their luxury lifestyle. “Nigerians love luxury and we also love to flaunt our luxury acquisition. When there is a new technology, a market for maintenance will emerge. We love to adapt to new trends, innovation just in order to feel cool or simply pass the message that say, if I want it, I will get it,” he added.
For a tech expert, Engr. Ajibade Osiyemi, “enterprises spanning marketing, app development and retail have only begun to see the impact of wearable technology globally. There are plenty of wearable tech pieces already available for consumers today, and even more on deck for release in the near future.
“Brands that want to remain competitive in the future must prepare for the next wave of wearable technologies with strategies to leverage their value for both employees and consumers. After all, it looks as though the future will be one in which everyone wears their business on their sleeve.”
Pop Culture Strategist and the founder of TINK Africa, Franklin Ozekhome also believe there is a viable market for wearable tech in Nigeria and Africa at large. He reasoned that Nigerian businesses are known to be conservative in their approach when it comes to new technology.
“Cloud computing, BYOD, and mobile apps are only starting to build momentum locally when they have already proved very successful in more developed markets. So are we (Africa) truly ready for wearable tech? Yes, I think that we are.
“Wearable Tech is pushing the boundaries of technology further than before as it is capable of bringing both value and utility to our everyday lives. Of course, we still have a long way to go before wearable tech becomes an everyday experience, especially in areas such as health, biology, security and transport. When tablets were first presented to the consumer market, many people were skeptical and thought these gadgets would disappear as quickly as they arrived. Yet, look at how prevalent tablets are today. We should never underestimate new tech and its ability to become mainstream,” he pointed out.
“It’s interesting to see Wearable Tech positioned as a Lifestyle Accessory, however, I still do not think a typical Nigerian early adopter or trendsetter is ready to abandon his or her luxury wrist-watch for a wearable tech device. It will be an add-on to show off within certain circles, but definitely not a replacement. Nigerian consumers are fashion conscious and wearable tech is still in the early stages of building strong emotional connections. In terms of design, smart watches actually look like cheap wrist-watches; they are a bit down-market for the luxury consumer, and a bit too geeky for a fashion-conscious Nigerian celebrities like ‘WizKid’ and Don Jazzy’ for example. They want to show off their Rolexes, Piaget and Hublots,” he opined.