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Korean tech firms hopeful 2015 will be the year for wearable tech

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Adam R Carr
Written by Adam R Carr
South Korea’s biggest tech firms are hungry to take the wearables market by storm, and a large portion of their success in 2015 will depend on watches.

Wearable tech has met with a mixture of indifference, curiosity and skepticism. From Google Glass, (the biggest innovation in combining wearable tech and social ineptitude since Bluetooth headsets), to fancy watch after fancy watch rolling through advertorials, most people just aren’t that ‘on board’ yet.

Why?

First off, even most reviewers of these products are iffy on their worth. Resoundingly, smartwatch reviewers are feeling like beta testers more than product reviewers, and even the checks they receive for their advertorials can’t hide their sighs. The technology is young, and everything from overall cohesiveness to software development is still far from being attractive to consumers.

Also, with so many people owning smartphones, the very idea of wearing any watch can seem like little more than a kitschy status declaration, whether it is an assertion of class, traditionalism, or independence from connectivity.  A smart watch lacks precisely the kind of affectations traditional watches have, and additionally lacks the software and functionality they need to carve out a sizeable niche of early adapters.

This could mean trouble for Korea’s biggest tech firms: LG, Samsung and SK Hynix; all of which have a big stake in the success of the wearable tech industry.

Samsung is reportedly providing a “secret” chip for the Apple watch, in addition to a substantial amount of A9 chips for new iPhones (the result of a hard fight with the Taiwanese company, TSMC).

SK Hynix also provides a large amount of both Apple and Samsung’s semiconductors (as well as a substantial amount of Apple’s NAND flash memory).

With analysts downgrading Apple Watch sales projections for the last month, and Samsung and LG’s watch lines sluggishly going along, the air is full of uncertainty.

Analysts are also skeptical, some even stating that watches may be passed over for wearable clothing, hinting that smart watches may go the way of the Laserdisc and pay napster.

However, it appears as though at least one market segment is leading the wearable tech industry at present: Fitness. Companies like Jawbone, Fitbit and other fitness wearables are selling well (at a 60percent market share), and it’s easy to see why: Fitness wearables have the functionality and software most other wearables lack, and they are very accessible.

Their drawback is that they are confined to one purpose, making them extremely fragile against the synergistic capabilities of smartwatches.

If Korea’s tech firms want this to be the year for wearable tech devices, they should be focusing on doing what Fitbit and Jawbone cannot do: anything past fitness monitoring. If the next generation of wearable tech goes well, you may not need a Fitbit anymore for the same reason no one wears a pedometer.

Ultimately, the limitations of fitness only wearables could eventually reduce Fitbit to an app (like Nike+); and yet, at the moment, they dominate the market. That alone is very telling about the early state of smartwatches.

Their price point is also a huge impediment. In a recent survey in America, over 60 percent of people answered that they were only willing to spend 99 dollars or less on fitness wearables (similar data is not available for Korea).

Also, their software is sadly underdeveloped. Apps for these devices are in their infancy, and no one even knows what to use them for yet. No one.

Not even the executives in these companies know exactly what the purpose of these devices is.

“Honestly, I have no idea what they will use them for. We are just optimistic about our strategy that wearable tech will guide our growth this year. It’s important to us,” said one senior executive at SK Hynix.

I have some hope for wearable tech. I’m sure that they’ll have to be more than flashy Bluetooth accessories for phones.

It is perhaps a tad early to imagine that these devices would be able to function as a wallet, ID, and interact with surrounding devices, but it would go a long way to imagining their relevance in the future. In the meantime, I’ll only be reaching into my pockets to check my phone.

About the author

Adam R Carr

Adam R Carr

Adam is an occasional writer, most-of-the-time adventurer, and all-of-the-time food-eater living in Seoul, South Korea. When he is not confabbing with Chaebol executives for a living, you can find him on his (t)rusty motorcycle Heemang, setting off for parts unknown and making new ajeossi friends along the way. He runs a blog called "Chase the Dot"

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