A craze for smart hardware has been raging in the past year, especially in China which is at the center of the smart hardware industrial chain. The trend also lured internet giants to build platforms in a bid to better develop and connect the hardware startups.
However, the burgeoning market has been plagued by product homogeneity. Smart watches and smart fitness trackers, which led the initial wave of smart hardware, are losing their charm as the market gets clogged with products with little or no difference in features, quality and benefits. Intensifying competition in these two sectors has pushed hardware startups to break into other areas. Here are some interesting areas we think worth nothing and startups which have caught our eye.
Most Chinese tech insiders believe that home smart devices will be controlled via router, with new applications needed to meet user’s needs or to improve the experience of these connected devices. This thinking has attracted many internet companies to this sector.
Xiaomi Router is considered the centerpiece of Xiaomi’s smart home plan. In addition, the company has also released a mini WiFi wireless router which is more portable and affordable.
Hiwifi is one of the first smart WiFi routers with built-in internet application in China. To gain traction for its platform, HiWiFi opened up its Linux-based system to developers and smart home appliance makers last July. The company received tens of millions of dollars in its A+ round of funding in 2014.
360 Portable WiFi is a dongle that can be converted to a WiFi hotspot once plugged into a PC or laptop. The product is sold for only RMB19.90 (about $3). Parent company Qihoo 360 claims to have sold out more than 15 million items as of August 2014.
Air Quality Monitors
China’s worsening air quality has been raising people’s awareness of pollution, indoors and outdoors. The crisis has led to the emergence of a series of smart air quality monitors which track environmental data in real time. The air problem has also spurred the air purifier market.
iCelery is an in-vehicle air quality indicator. With in-built VOC sensors, the device helps users measure interior air quality and reminds owners to ventilate or use air purifiers by analyzing the concentrations of pollution and exhaust fumes.
Haier Air Box comes from China’s leading home appliance manufacturer. It is an indoor air quality detector that monitors the indoor environment and can be connected to air conditioners and purifiers (both by Haier and any other brand). An accompanying mobile app displays environmental data and instructs purifiers to operate when air quality is poor.
iKair is a smart sensor that provides intelligent readouts of indoor environmental factors like air quality and noise levels, and then recommends improvements.
Maternal and Child Care
China’s post-80s and post-90s generations are considered better educated and have grown up in the digital age. As these people have started to have families, it’s natural for these new parents to try out new methods in parenting. The post-80s mothers are rapidly becoming the most important parent group in China.
iCareNewlife is a handheld ultrasound and smartphone app that tracks an unborn baby’s heartbeat. Instead of visiting clinics, parents can easily track fetal sounds with iCareNewlife’s miniature ultrasound device, which connects to smartphone via audio cable, or share data on the baby on social media if they want.
Lisa is a smart fetal movement tracking wristband which helps expectant mothers monitor the condition of their unborn child. Users can read the recorded data on an accompanying app which also provides antepartum weight control and postpartum workout plans. A similar product is B-smart, a smart watch for moms developed by Shenzhen-based Umeox.
Leme is a smart gadget allowing parents to read to their kids at any time or from any location. Parents can read the stories on the app directly to their kids, saving time by having the stories to hand, or record audio clips for their children to listen to when they are unavailable. Leme also can project videos or pictures of the stories being told. Backed by Chinese video content provider LeTV, the app has over 200 stories available. In addition, it also allows real-time communication between parents and children.
360 Child Guard is a GPS tracking bracelet developed by Qihoo. It enables parents to locate the position of their kids and track their movements on a mobile app. Parents also can call and listen to the sounds around them, letting them know whether their kids are in a safe environment.
Teemo is a GPS-powered smart wristband for kids. In addition to the usual features, Teemo has a WeChat-like “Hold-to-talk” function to enable real-time communication between children and parents. The device also allows wearers to use it as the controller for motion sensor games integrated in the accompanying app.
Connected Portable Projectors
The living room electronics market has long been the focus of consumer manufacturers. After waves of set-top boxes and smart TVs, streaming projectors are the latest product with the potential to transform Chinese living rooms, thanks to their portability and easy access to vast amounts of content.
ZECO is XGIMI’s major competitor in the projector market. ZECO’s latest CX6 product comes with YunOS, the custom Android system developed by Alibaba, and is sold on Tmall.
Dji Innovations is a Shenzhen-based company that produces commercial and recreational unmanned aerial systems. As GoPro is poised to launch consumer drones to supplement its action camera lineup, Dji is also planning to introduce hardware with advanced camera features and to include in-house cameras with their drones.
Ehang is the Chinese startup behind Ghost Drone, a quadcopter that can be controlled with mobile app (iOS and Android). The company just receveived US$10 million of Series A funding led by GGV Capital after snapping up a combined US$705,000 on Indiegogo and Chinese crowdfunding site Demohour.
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)