Human wrists deserve a break when it comes to payments, commerce and even authentication, right? To put it another way: Is there a better way to do wearables, to appeal to consumers who, for various reasons, might not like wearing web-connected devices on that part of their bodies?
It’s a reasonable concern.
As wearables become more popular (and, no doubt, the New Year has brought many more sightings of fitness trackers around the wrists of relatives, pals, co-workers, fellow commuters and those nice people at the gym or yoga studio), it’s also become clear that wrists are carrying more than their fair weight for this payments and commerce trend. That makes sense, of course.
Bracelets have resided on wrists since Old Testament times. Wristwatches, as a concept at least, date back to at least Elizabethan times (the first Elizabeth, the one who breathed the same air as Shakespeare). Historians generally trace the mass adaptation of that functional jewelry to World War I (thanks, in part, to the need for a relatively affordable device able to synchronize mass attacks that involved well-separated artillery and infantry).
Yet, as wearables take on more digital tasks, a fair question arises: What about other form factors? What about other parts of the body? Might they work better — or, at least, be more comfortable — physically, emotionally or both for consumers?
Rings As Wearables
In the latest edition of the PYMNTS “Matchmakers” podcast series, Karen Webster spoke with Tejash Unadkat, CEO at Motiv, a company that is trying to make a greater place for rings — yes, simple rings for fingers — as dominate wearable devices that can enable near-field communication (NFC) payments, purchases and consumer authentication.
“The wrist is not necessarily the ideal place for a device,” Unadkat said, telling of one of the company’s founders who had trouble sleeping, but was bothered by a wrist-worn device meant to help with that issue. “Rings are prevalent all over the place, and it’s something that both old and young [consumers] understand.”
The discussion between the two also served as a view of the future of wearables as they take on more payment and commerce roles, as well as mature and branch out from their common roles as fitness trackers, coaches and trainers for users to work toward their own personal health plans (and as insurers and medical service providers eye the data that comes from those trackers).
In fact, global shipments of wearable devices will reach 125.3 million units in 2018, an 8.5 percent increase from the previous year, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker. In addition, the five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is expected to hit 11 percent, with shipments reaching 189.9 million units in 2022.
Rings can be part of that growth, according to Unadkat, who described them as the “most comfortable form factor” when it comes to wearables. That may be, but the use of rings for fitness tracking, payments, commerce and authentication does present challenges.
Obviously, rings are small, and that means no readable screens at which consumers can look. For now, that mostly means fitness tracking information — those numbers, metrics and even congratulatory milestones that can keep some users running when they want to give up, or inspire them to walk those extra blocks to the other entrance of the train station after work.
That said, not every consumer “wants to announce to the world that ‘I want to use weights and get fit,’” he said. “A ring is very subtle.” Consumers who desire rings as their form factor for wearables are more likely to not need constant updates on their fitness progress throughout the day, but tend to check in the morning, afternoon and before bed.
Such data appears not on the ring (as stated, it has no room for a screen), but via a mobile app on the user’s smartphone or tablet. However, for any wearable to win over consumers (win them for years, not months, and take a sold place in consumers’ daily lives), they will need to go beyond fitness, and in ways that don’t necessarily feel experimental. In short, there needs to be good use cases.
In the case of rings, that could mean contactless NFC payments. More specifically, it means using “active” NFC so that consumers can wave their hands (ring finger and all) in the near proximity of a payment terminal to complete a transaction via a payment method for which the consumer has already signed up.
“You just wave your hand over the terminal as you would do naturally,” Unadkat said.
Rings as wearables will likely depend on so-called “behavioral biometrics” for security and authentication. Such biometrics use consumer body movements instead of voice, fingerprint, iris or other static data to authenticate consumers. In the case of the Motiv rings, a consumer’s gait is the prime biometric.
“It recognizes how you walk,” Unadkat said. “If you take off the ring, that authentication goes away,” though, he added, a consumer could still then use the wearable for certain tasks.
In Unadkat’s telling, wearable rings can serve as “second-factor authentication” devices, with “simple gestures” from consumers to facilitate transactions. He identified the role such wearables can play, saying that consumers tend to use their credit cards three or four times per day, and that a wearable ring can offer a “safer option” that, for many consumers, will feel more comfortable on their bodies than wrist devices.
Not all consumers are the same, though. U.S. and European consumers tend to prefer lightweight rings when used for wearables (Motiv rings are titanium), he said. Consumers in the Middle East and Asia generally prefer heavier rings. He said the company’s customer base is, more or less, evenly split between male and female consumers — early expectations had more men than women buying these rings.
As for buying, the rings are sold in 27 countries, Unadkat said, and 2019 will see more selling of those wearables at retail chains — the company already sells on Amazon and via QVC, he said. More uses for those rings — beyond fitness — could bring that valued “consumer stickiness” to the device, making it hard for users to give it up easily. That’s the goal of these rings and all other wearables, of course.
Wearables will keep gaining a higher profile in the coming months, according to most predictions and retail observers. However, now, they need to take up more payment, commerce and authentication tasks. Will comfort and subtlety drive more fans of wearables to rings? It doesn’t seem implausible, at least, given the long history of that jewelry, but it’s all in the use cases for now.