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Are smart rings the next big thing in wearable tech?


Before the arrival of the pandemic, a quick scan around the average meeting room would reveal fitness trackers and smartwatches attached to the wrists of attendees. While waiting for others to arrive, small talk would inevitably lead to sharing war stories about their challenges of reaching a daily goal of 10,000 steps.

Despite the arbitrary figure consisting of clever marketing rather than science, many became hooked on hitting their daily goals. If they forgot to wear their device, some would even take on additional walks after work to ensure their daily goal was reached, and their position on their friend's leaderboard was secured. Unfortunately, with some smartwatches requiring daily charges and many wristbands falling victim to one too many software updates, many are now left lifeless in a drawer full of forgotten tech.

In the workplace, most will subscribe to the concept that if you can't measure it, you can't improve it, and data-driven decision-making is the way forward. Could we apply this same thinking to our personal well-being? Wearables are taking users on a journey of self-discovery beyond the step counting myth to unlock valuable insights about themselves. Welcome to the brave new world of smart rings.

Health and happiness

Ōura recently revealed it had sold one million smart rings with an increasing number of sporting leagues from NBA to NASCAR, also embracing the next wave of wearable tech that promises to better measure athletic performance and recovery.

Celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jack Dorsey, Cristiano Ronaldo, and even Prince Harry are early adopters of the Ōura ring. The Finnish finger-worn wearable continuously tracks the wearer's sleep patterns, heart rate, body temperature, movement, and brain function. These insights are sent directly to its smartphone app and can even detect the early onset of fever to help identify possible flu or COVID 19 infection early.

Do you ever wonder why you cannot get your head in the zone some days? The Ōura app will also consider all of your captured data to produce a readiness score that is meant to represent a holistic picture of your health. The proactive approach to well-being and healthcare enables the wearer to identify signs of stress, illness, injury, or any new trends in your health before it becomes a problem. For example, a low score might reveal that it's time to repay your sleep debt to boost your readiness score the following day.

The Ōura ring costs $299 and can survive for up to seven days per charge. But predictably, there is a $5.99 monthly subscription to access the insights with new features promised soon. Reviews also suggest there have been a few tech niggles as the future of the smart ring continues to evolve and enter the mainstream.

Transactions

With the ability to make payments from your smartphone, consumers are increasingly leaving their wallets and purses at home. But what if you could travel even lighter and make small contactless payments with a ring on your finger and not worry about PIN codes? Smart rings such as the K Ring use a secure NFC wireless short-range connection that can be used on sale terminals or even transport networks such as the London Underground.

What makes K Ring stand out from other smart rings is that that doesn't have to be "paired" with a smartphone to complete payments, and as a passive NFC-based device, you don't even have to charge the battery because it doesn't have one.

Elsewhere the McLear RingPay is also appealing with a $124 entry price and the ability to transfer funds between rings. A companion app lets you keep track of your spending, but its biggest drawback is that it's only available in the UK. Although paying for your Starbucks or commuting to the office with a fist bump might sound incredibly cool, I suspect you might spend longer explaining how it all works to people confused by the sorcery of your payment method.

Authentication

The Token smart ring takes the concept to a whole new level. It can act as an extension to your wallet. Still, it's also Seos-ready, which means it can store building access credentials, and gaining access to your office, gym, or even your car could be as simple as magically swiping your hand across an entry point sensor.

In the office, it is widely accepted that 2-factor authentication is no longer enough to protect against an increasing range of cyberattacks. The Token ring is tackling this problem by providing 5-factor authentication in a zero-trust approach to safeguard your identity.

However, a quick scan across the fragmented smart ring landscape reveals that you might need more rings than Tom Brady to cover all bases. For example, the Ōura ring might help you realize your human potential, but you cannot use it to make payments at the time of writing. Similarly, the other options promise to make payments and access easier or improve your security, but they do not track your sleep or steps.

What is the actual cost of sacrificing privacy for convenience?

One of the biggest questions around the rise of wearable tech is what happens to these vast quantities of data collected on every user? Will the user maintain the ownership of the data captured from every heartbeat, breath they take, and digital transaction they complete? In 2022, every wearable manufacturer will have a privacy policy stating how important privacy is to them, but history suggests things can change very quickly.

The bigger question that every wearable customer should be asking is what happens several years from now when the company goes bankrupt or is acquired by an organization that wants access to this data? For example, when private equity firm Blackstone completed the acquisition of Ancestry.com for $4.7 Billion, it also gained ownership of the DNA data of 18 million people.

With rumors that Apple is getting serious about smart rings, we can expect the trend for finger-worn wearables to quickly ramp up this year. But, in our increasingly digital world where every movement is tracked, is it time to consider if the pursuit of limitless human potential is just another marketing myth similar to the 10,000 steps goal?

At the moment, wearable smart rings are on sale for a few hundred dollars and a monthly subscription. But it will be many years before we learn the actual cost of sharing our heartbeat, temperature, movement, and purchase history with big tech companies. So for these reasons alone, before you once again sacrifice privacy for convenience, maybe take a moment to question the ethics of health tracking companies capturing and holding your personal data behind a paywall.



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