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20 October 2016

COMMENT: Why you don’t need a smart ring


If you’re in the market for a new smart device, such as a watch or phone, you’ve probably already stumbled upon a smart ring or two. They’re almost an inevitable consequence of the trend to make everything smaller and smarter but, at such an early stage in their development, are they really worth the investment?

No – not yet. And here are a few reasons why not.

  1. They Don’t Do Anything New
If anything typifies mobile phones in the current decade, it’s their ever-increasing size. Mobile phones become more useful as their screen size grows – can you imagine watching Netflix on the 128x128 screen of the classic Nokia 3210? But the reverse is also true; if you make something smaller, it becomes harder to use and features start to disappear as a consequence.
Smart rings are diminishing functionality taken to its logical extreme. The Ringly, for example, a smart device that doubles as costume jewellery, flashes when your phone receives a text message, email, or several other configurable notifications; that’s the extent of its functionality. It’s a £162 ring that provides a constant tether to your phone.
Much of the write-up around smart rings lists a benefit of knowing that you have a message when you can’t use your phone. However, as the ring doesn’t tell you what the message says, unlike some smartwatches, you’ll need to unlock your phone to read it. It’s an entirely redundant feature, made worse by the fact that the notification light is obnoxiously bright.

  1. They Complicate Things
Research conducted by Voucherbox indicates that consumers have an appetite for smart devices in all their guises, especially wearables like FitBits and Apple Watches. However, it's by far the simpler, more specialised options that succeed in the market.
Ring, a smart device by a company called Logbar, features gesture recognition as well as a host of other features to “shortcut everything”. For example, if you draw a camera shape in the air while wearing the ring, the camera app on your phone opens. You can then pick up your device to take a picture.
It’s undeniably clever but the alternative is swiping once on your phone. On some models, you don’t even need to unlock the device to use the camera. Ring’s gesture technology simply complicates a process that Apple, Sony, Samsung, etc. have already sharpened to a fine point. With that in mind, it’s hard to see the Ring as anything more than a novelty.

  1. The World isn’t Ready
Smart rings are all the rage when the technology doesn’t quite exist to support them yet. To give an extreme example, Ring’s early consumer reviews were verycritical of the device. It had potential but overpromised with niche, untested technology.
The NFC Ring has a similar problem. Near Field Communication (NFC) is the technology behind contactless payments; put another way, it allows two smart objects within certain proximity to ‘talk’ to each other. You can use the NFC ring to make payments, open electronic doors, and transfer data.
However, to take full advantage of the NFC Ring, you’ll need a £65NFC door lock as well as an NFC-equipped phone (fairly common, admittedly) to configure touchless unlocking of your device. NFC door locks are far from standard; in fact, the only mainstream NFC technology out there is used in contactless payments, which have only just started to take off.

Whether they’re ahead of their time (NFC Ring), an unnecessary extension of your smartphone (Ringly), or a needless over-complication (Ring), the world isn’t ready to adopt the smart ring just yet. However, if you are desperate for a new smart device, wait to see what Samsung and Apple do with the lessons learned in the market so far, as both brands have filed relevant patents for ring tech in the last year.


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