wearable technology

Misfit over Fitbit: stylish wearables gain traction in Asia but lack of substance blamed for non-mainstream appeal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 8:00am

Consumers in Asia are demonstrating a growing appetite for stylish wearable devices, with China and Hong Kong among the top markets for US companies like Misfit and Ashley Chloe that make smart devices for people’s wrists.

While industry insiders bemoan how many of these devices are thin on features and lacking in sufficient style and substance to hit the mainstream, some vendors are tapping Asian consumers’ love of bling to fire up sales.

Misfit is best known for its female-oriented wireless activity tracker Misfit Shine, which tracks the number of steps taken and calories burned, as well as the user's sleep cycle. 

“We actually outsell the Fitbit in China,” said Misfit CEO Sonny Vu in an interview with the South China Morning Post. 

Founded in 2007, San Francisco-based Fitbit stands as something of a pioneer in its field. It now owns 85 per cent of the US market for activity trackers and filed for an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in June.

China currently accounts for one-third of Misfit’s sales. The company said it has shipped more than two million trackers globally over the last 18 months, and Vu attributes much of its success to the stylish design of the Shine.

“[Many wearables] look like they were designed by geeks for geeks, as opposed to for the mass market and women,” Vu said at a conference for tech start-ups in Hong Kong on Saturday. 

“[Misfit aims] towards fashion and design. Either make it beautiful, or invisible, or don’t do it at all.”

Ashley Chloe recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for its Helix Cuff, a pair of Bluetooth headphones that transform into a wearable wristband.

Singapore-born founder Angela Pan said the campaign has been especially successful in Asia, with backers in Hong Kong making up 10 per cent of the total, second only to the number of backers in the US.

“In countries like Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan, people tend to wear more accessories and pay close attention to style,” she said.

“Nowadays, everyone needs a pair of earphones, and we’re creating [Helix Cuff] as an accessory that you can wear on your wrist … to bridge the gap between fashion and functionality.”

In just two weeks, the campaign has already hit its target goal of US$100,000, with six weeks remaining.

Despite the fledgling success of fashion-oriented wearable devices, Vu said wearables in general must offer a more useful array of functions to be broadly embraced.

“They need to become more compelling, so that you won’t just leave it behind if you forget it and are halfway to work,” said Vu. “Users want more than just activity tracking and notifications.”

The US$20 Misfit Flash Link, launched in mid-July, is the company’s latest offering. 

In addition to tracking activities like walking and sleeping, it can easily be reprogrammed to serve as a remote control or to help with delivering presentations, among other purposes, the company said.

The next evolution of the wearables industry will see it provide more content and personalised coaching, rather than just collecting data, Vu said, adding that Misfit is working on a number of such projects.

“If you want to get more fit and eat healthier, that’s the only way, to get someone to tell you what to do,” he said. 

“It is going to happen. It’s just a matter of time. We’re working on it.”