Wearable tech

What is the future of
wearable tech in Africa?

When it comes to wearable technologies, many will think of smart watches and maybe the Google Glass. These technologies have had great impact in the western countries.

But what is the future of wearable technology in Africa?

It is no secret that wearable technology is crowded around developed economies that have higher GDP, meaning more disposable income. In Africa, most of the population live below the poverty line and/or are unemployed. Adoption of non-essential technologies will be a challenge in the continent.

Not yet a lifestyle accessory

In Nigeria, wearable technology is met by the same attitude as most of Africa: skepticism. In an article appearing in Nigeria's 'The Guardian’, a survey conducted shows most Nigerians are not ready for this type of technology.

"It's interesting to see wearable technologies positioned as a lifestyle accessory. However, I still do not think a typical Nigerian early adopter or trendsetter is ready to abandon his or her luxury wristwatch for a wearable tech device," founder of TINK Africa, Franklin Ozekhome said.

It will be an add-on to show off within certain circles, but definitely not a replacement. Nigerian consumers are fashion conscious and wearable tech is still in the early stages of building strong emotional connections,” he added.

But, as seen in the developing nations, most wearable technologies are dependent on previous technology advancements. For instance, wearable technology that uses GPS would work better within a well data connected environment.

A shift in attitude

CladLight is one of the few locally-made wearable technologies in Africa, created by Charles Muchene and Michael Gathogo. CladLight is a wearable jacket for motorcycle riders, with light signals akin to those for cars. The apparel enables the rider to show their intended move to avoid unwanted accidents.

In the past, many have died and maimed in motorcycle accidents. CladLight’s idea is to save the lives of the motorcycle riders and their passengers.

As such, CladLight perfectly illustrates a crucial point: The future of wearable technology in Africa has to be an answer to a challenge or a problem. It cannot really be about luxury, as it is seen in other parts of the globe.

Sports could also be a great avenue to apply wearable technology. In 2013, the Kenya Rugby Union started to use Global Positioning System (GPS) for their players. According to an article on ITWeb Africa, the technology is used to monitor player's performance and can be analysed later.

"Portable GPS units are to be worn by players on their vests to assist the coach and his technical staff to identify when a player is fatigued, how much force he is using when making a tackle and how hard he is working. The technical bench can then use this information to make an informed decision on who to substitute," the article cited.

Although such technology can help sportsmen and women, the sheer lack of proper capital to invest in technology is still a huge hindrance for its application in most sporting camps.

Health sector and the future of wearable technology in Africa

Health is also an area where wearable technology would help. Being able to monitor patients condition away from the hospital corridors would greatly benefit the underprivileged areas in Africa. The investment to have such gadgets and to educate the public on them would be the initial barriers to its adoption in health.

However, the growth of this (health) sector could be the one that pioneers the growth of wearable technology in Africa. According to a recent report by Frost and Sullivan, the global wearable technology will hit a market value of US$40 billion by 2018,

"Remote monitoring of chronic conditions has been around for some time and has shown real value in the management of chronic disease," says Frost & Sullivan Programme Manager for Healthcare in Africa, Dr Etienne van Wyk.

"The overlap that has been created with m-Health, and the development and miniaturisation of sensors, has led to the immense commercial potential of wearable devices as well as hosted cloud services going forward."

Van Wyk said that the development of m-Health in Africa could point to the use of wearable technology to monitor patients.

Slow adoption does not mean no adoption

The low level wearable technology in Africa can be attributed to the fact that there is little innovation around hardware technologies. Most techies in Africa have opted to invest in software. It is relatively less capital-consuming compared to creating prototypes and manufacturing hardware.

Right now, the most treasured 'wearable' technology in Africa is the mobile phone, and, increasingly, the smartphone. But I believe that soon enough innovations will move beyond the smartphones and slowly venture into wearable technologies.

In conclusion, low levels of adoption might change with strong economic backing and great internet connection that is happening around the continent.

I can definitely see the future of wearable technology in the African market.

The above article by Vincent Matinde first published on haiafrika.com in 2015.