This Hong Kong 'Smart Ring' Startup Raised $2.5M To Crack The Wearables Market

Origami Labs

Origami Labs co-founders Emile Chan, Marcus Leung-Shea and Johan Wong wear their Orii rings. (photo courtesy of Origami Labs)

When you think wearables, the first things that come to mind are probably smartwatches and fitness bands. Wearables surfaced as a mainstream consumer electronics trend about four years ago, but eventually the trend tapered.

One Hong Kong startup, Origami Labs, is widening the wearables wardrobe with a finger ring that answers phone calls.

The ring, called Orii, receives any kind of smartphone notification, like a text message. The wearer can use the device to take a call or activate a phone’s voice assistant, hearing by placing the ringed finger close to one’s ear. The ring communicates with a phone via Bluetooth, with the user’s finger bones conducting the sound (painlessly).

Orii functions something like a wireless earbud but never has to be taken off until the battery dies after about 48 hours of standby time.

“It’s truly a wearable in that it serves as a notification device,” co-founder Johan Wong said at the 2.5-year-old firm’s booth at the InnoVEX tech show in Taipei this week. It’s ideal, he adds, “in a private setting, or [if] you’re outdoors or you’re on the go.”

After the user presses a button, he says, “then [the ring] will either read out whatever info,” audibly like a text message, “or you can just jump on the call.”

What got it going

The four Origami Labs founders got the idea as students at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Wong’s father, now in his 50s, had trouble seeing and wanted some way to use smartphones without looking at the screen.

The product that launched late last year has sold 5,000 boxes–of four to 10 rings each–with another 5,000 expected to move by the end of August. Orders are coming mainly from Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan as well as Europe and the United States.

Origami Labs has raised $500,000 in crowdfunding and closed a hefty total funding of $2.5 million , Wong said. One of its founders is China-based Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund for startups.

A set of rings sells for $160 after production in Taiwan and final assembly in China.

Magic ring or just another wearable?

Whether Origami Labs will see further funding, increased orders, or even an IPO is hard to say. Wong says the point for now is to make a “kick-butt” product.

The ring’s success could come down to fashion. The boxy Orii ring looms larger on the finger than the average wedding ring, and Origami Labs demos it by encouraging people to use the index rather than ring finger.

“It’s always neat to see creative ideas like this,” says Bryan Ma, Vice President of Client Devices Research with the market analysis firm IDC. Ma points out that Bluetooth headsets have become accepted in day-to-day life, “as awkward as they might’ve looked at first.”

“As with many wearable devices though, tech and fashion don’t always mix together very well, and society might not quickly accept the idea of putting your finger next to your ear either,” Ma says.

An Orii ring is tried at the Slush start-up events in Tokyo, March 28, 2018. (Alessandro Di Ciommo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Vendors will sell 411 million wearable devices in 2020, worth $34 billion, up from $14 billion in 2016 , CSS Insight says as cited here. But by last year, forecasts were getting more conservative. A lot of those shipments were watches, as well. Reports such as this one point to a shakier market.

Smartrings aren’t a new concept, either; Wareable.com released a list of some top performers earlier this year. But still…they don’t answer phones through your bones.

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