Editor’s note: This was written by Kayla Matthews, a freelance writer focusing on technology and online media. You can find more of her work on VentureBeat, MakeUseOf, Motherboard and Gear Diary.
Wearables have invaded just about every market and space you could imagine. There are smart clothes, wrist-worn devices and smartwatches, smart bags, and yes, even smart tools that you ingest inside your body.
Most of these gadgets come with the “smart” moniker, which essentially means they can interface with other devices, like a smartphone. Modern drones, for instance, are considered smart because you can control them remotely from a phone or tablet.
Of course, there are also smart pet wearables — like the Fitbark — designed to help you track a variety of stats related to your furry companions. You can keep an eye on their health and activity, moods and behaviors, the amount of sleep and even how strong a bond they have with you, their owner.
When the first pet-related devices appeared, it seemed like a gimmick. There’s no way something like this would catch on, right? Who in their right mind would want to know absolutely everything about their pet, and put up a pretty penny to be able to?
Maybe not in the West, at least as much as companies have hoped. But back in Hong-Kong and China, people are going wild for pet wearables like smart collars, leashes, feeders, trackers and more.
Yes — wild.
Pet ownership, not just a bourgeois habit anymore
Believe it or not, pet ownership has long been denounced by the Communist Party as decadent, flashy, and unnecessary, a staple, if you will, of the upper bourgeois. Because of that, many middle to lower class consumers in the country have avoided raising and taking care of pets — until now. It has become increasingly popular again, especially among the middle class.
Chinese consumers have always harbored a love for modern tech. One doesn’t need to look far to see that, especially in downtown Hong Kong. So, electronic pet devices and wearables naturally became more popular, right along with pet ownership.
That’s motivating many companies and manufacturers to join the party, which in turn influences the competition around the world. It’s a normal cycle, and it’s beneficial for consumers, particularly pet and animal lovers.
The result is a tech trend — pet wearables — that’s flooding the world thanks to popularity in a single region. China’s market share seems to be headed for a 20% percent boost for pet wearables by 2024. Already, the country makes up 5% of the global, $1 billion market in pet wearables.
Though it might sound a bit fantastical, the numbers exist to back it up: Pet wearables are the next profitable trend, especially in China.
What can wearable tech tell you about your pets?
It’s no surprise that predictions suggest 215 million wearables will be sold and shipped by 2019. The wearables market, overall, is seeing a huge rise in demand, especially when it comes to fitness and health trackers.
But the technology has been around long enough that most people know what to expect from it. A smartwatch, for example, can often take remote calls and handle messages after being paired with a smartphone. A fitness tracker will report the number of steps you take and how many calories you burn during your day.
But what can pet wearables tell you about your furry friends? Can it tell you when your pet is hungry?
Here’s a hint: They’re always hungry.
Like human-based wearables, pet devices can be used to discern a variety of things from health and medical issues to activity levels. There’s even a wearable that will tell you if your pet is getting enough exercise. If you want a device that will feed your pet every day on a set schedule, there are tech items with that feature, as well.
Most devices are for canines and felines alike, so it doesn’t matter what type of pet you prefer. You could even strap a GPS tracker to your hamster to locate them easier when they’re on the loose. Of course, the latter example just involves using non-pet tech on your pet.
If your cat has been meowing or whining, wearables can tell you whether it’s a medical or health issue or he just wants your full, undivided attention.
They’re not just for entertainment and monitoring purposes, either. Some devices are in the works to be used professionally by veterinarians and animal caregivers. Automated feeding systems are an excellent example of this, aimed at making pet care more convenient.
Not all devices are made specifically for pets, but there are a few such as Fitbark, the PitPatPet, the DogStar Tailtalk, the Inupathy collar and the GoPro Fetch. While these are all name-brand devices, they’re not technically Chinese electronics, made on a budget.
The future of pet wearables
Alfred NG, the chief technology officer at Suga, believes the Chinese market share for pet wearables will jump by 20 percent by 2024, adding up to a net worth of $2.5 billion. His company, Suga, already produces pet-friendly devices like a health and food intake monitor and a pet emotions tool.
Suga is just one of many startups looking to cash in on the modern pet craze in China. Other renowned brands include PetPace LLC, Mars Petcare’s Whistle Labs, i45C Innovations, Fitbark, DeLaval and more.
The goal of pet wearables is to help owners better care for their companions, from a fitness and activity standpoint and regarding their health. Less emergency vet visits are better for everyone — but regular check-ups are still necessary!
With the kind of pet wearables coming out of China — and eventually elsewhere — you’ll be able to see just what your pet needs, ending the mystery that has long existed between humans and animals.