While the wearables market has been dominated by fitness bands and smartwatches of late, several companies have recently announced plans that could give this industry the jolt it needs. From Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC ) latest investments in "smart shirts" and Samsung's (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF ) new developer-friendly approach, to InvenSense's (NYSE: INVN ) plans for a big fiscal year, companies are taking their stance on wearable computer chips.
Wearable shirts and serious investments
If you follow Intel, keep a close eye on the company's increasing investment in the mobile world, because it continues to grow more focused. Intel stepped up at this year's Re/code conference to introduce a prototype wearable shirt, one of the few tech shirts demonstrated outside the professional sports industry. The wearable is capable of tracking heart rates and similar types of data, potentially even analyzing emotion based on biofeedback. Intel and its smart clothing partner, AiQ, promise that the shirt will be on shelves this summer, although there is no word yet on pricing.
Intel's shirt uses a portable, removable battery that has to be taken out before the shirt is washed. CEO Brian Krzanich, who wore the prototype to the conference, also spoke of plans for more wearable tech involving eyes, ears, wrists, and beyond.
The interest in wearable chips is only the latest move into the Internet of Things for Intel, which continues to invest in various mobile opportunities and still spends around 38% of its revenues on research and development. Research firm IDC has predicted that the Internet of Things could be a $8.9 trillion market by 2020. A move away from the PC and toward wearables may be the key to helping Intel's stock move on from hovering around $25, where it has been the past few years. Watch for more signs that Intel is done with the PC and anxious to embrace more high-growth tech.
Encouraging partnerships for new wearable devices
The latest Samsung project is Simband , a health-tracker experiment Samsung is providing to developers to help create market-ready creations like sensors and software. Combined with the SAMI (Samsung Architecture Multimodal Interactions) platform, the Simband attempts to encourage the development of advanced acoustic, optic and electric sensors.
The flexible, almost modular approach of Simband and SAMI seeks to encourage manufacturers to work together on wearables, a notably different path from Samsung's past wearable efforts, where its Gear smartwatches were designed to work only with Samsung-brand phones.
With the recent release of the Galaxy S5 smartphone, Samsung has been in a growth phase after a rocky start to 2014. Wearables are not a necessity for Samsung, but they do help position the company as a continued competitor to the likes of Apple. At this point, avoiding the wearable market and stepping back from past efforts, like smartwatches, could be met with negativity. But Samsung is doing more than keeping up appearances: It is reinventing its strategy entirely, a welcome step likely to help its growth phase continue.
Customizing sensors from the ground up
InvenSense, while an interesting third player, is facing what looks like a make or break season for its products. Unlike Intel and Samsung, InvenSense specializes in mobile and wearable-related sensors. According to recent news from CEO Behrooz Abdi , the company has finished a year devoted investment and is now prepared to market its smart sensors at several different levels. Basic sensor products can be customized with varying algorithms to complete different tasks: stabilizers can correct smartphone cameras, navigation sensors can track walking, jogging or bike-riding, and so forth.
A more active fiscal year is necessary for InvenSense's stock to stabilize after a rocky first half of 2014, where the company jumped from around $16 to nearly $24 per share before falling again on poor fourth-quarter news, with revenue $1.58 million below expectations . By mid-May, its share price was down 15% year over year (currently near $20) . InvenSense's latest plans could help the company shake off its volatility and find more dependable stock growth. Look for more details about InvenSense's ambitions at its 2014 Developer's Conference , scheduled for June 11 and 12.
Ultimately, the wearable market remains in a state of flux as these companies search for a strong direction to take their products. But their renewed interest and new approaches suggest that wearables are still a long way from being relegated to a failed attempt.
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