By Mary-Lynn Cesar
Along with encryption, the South by Southwest Interactive festival has thrust wearables into the spotlight.
Thanks in part to President Obama's comments on the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)-FBI battle, encryption is one of the hottest topics to come out of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival. But encryption isn't the only thing they're discussing in Austin. Wearable tech, which SXSW organizers identified as one of the leading tech trends for SXSW 2016 back in November, is also making a splash.
There are exactly a dozen wearables-focused panels and workshops at SXSW this year, not to mention several pop-ups and demos. Watchmaker Fossil (NASDAQ:FOSL) debuted its Q Motion fitness tracker, the latest addition to its Q line of wearables.
On Saturday, Sony (NYSE:SNE) revealed its "Concept N" wearable prototype, one of the first products to emerge from the company's research and development-focused Future Lab program. Engadget describes Concept N as a hands-free device that responds to voice commands and provides location-based information (weather, local news, etc.), takes photos and plays audio. Oh, and it's worn around your neck.
Under Armour (NYSE:UA) - which released its first wearable, the Under Armour Band, in February - isn't showing off any new products at SXSW. Instead, the sporting goods giant is using its time at the festival to participate in panels exploring wearables' role in health, as well as consumers' short-term relationships with fitness trackers and smartwatches.
The increased emphasis on wearables is timely. Demand for the technology is on the rise; according to research firm IDC, the worldwide wearables market will expand to 111.1 million shipped units this year, up 44.4% from 80 million units in 2015. This doesn't mean wearable makers are immune to struggle. Take Fitbit (NYSE:FIT), for example. After having a successful IPO last June and rising to $51 in early August, the stock fell below its IPO price for the first time in early January and is down 51% for the year. Part of the concern around Fitbit's viability stems from the company's decision to take on Apple with the launch of its Blaze fitness smartwatch.
However, having a big name attached to a wearable device doesn't guarantee success either. Just look at the discontinued Nike (NYSE:NKE) Fuel Band and Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) failed Google Glass experiment.
The wearables market is young. And while opportunities abound, so do challenges - from competing with huge tech brands to getting consumers excited about products. Here's a list of wearables-involved companies that are trying to make the tech more mainstream at SXSW.
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1. Fossil Group Inc.: Designs, develops, markets, and distributes fashion accessories worldwide. Market cap at $2.37B, most recent closing price at $49.73. Fossil debuted its Q Motion fitness tracker at SXSW.
2. Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ:GRMN): Operates as a holding company, and through its subsidiaries, designs, develops, manufactures, and markets global positioning system (GPS) enabled products and other navigation, communication, and information products worldwide. Market cap at $7.46B, most recent closing price at $39.72. Garmin participated in the "Wearables: Powder Keg for a Health Revolution" panel at SXSW.
3. Sony Corporation: Designs, develops, manufactures, and sells electronic equipment, instruments, and devices for consumer, professional, and industrial markets worldwide. Market cap at $30.96B, most recent closing price at $24.61. Sony introduced its Concept N wearable at SXSW.
4. Under Armour, Inc.: Designs, develops, markets, and distributes a range of apparel and accessories using synthetic microfiber fabrications around the world. Market cap at $17.64B, most recent closing price at $82.45. Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank gave a keynote address entitled "How a Sports Giant is Now Tackling Your Health."
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