Nokia Enters The Health Care Wearable Free-For-All

The Finnish multinational is acquiring fitness gadget company Withings


As the next big change to the way technology affects our daily lives, wearables are set to continue their clunky but definite emergence as the sector’s hot product. Almost all large tech manufacturers are developing their own incarnations, and the growth of the internet of things will only see wearables gain more traction in the coming years. From heart rate monitors to smart-rings, applications of wearable tech are exploding, and companies are scrambling to find the next possible adaptation of an existing item of clothing or accessory.

By far the most popular wearables are all currently worn on the wrist. Fitness trackers and smartwatches have grown quickly, with fitness tracker sales increasing 150% from 2014 to 2015, according to analyst firm Canalys, and 2016 sales are likely to reflect that same growth trend. Fitbit is currently the resounding industry leader, shipping 8.1 million units in Q4 2015, according to IDC, a figure that equates to 29.5% of the market share.

Apple is some way behind Fitbit with 15% (4.1 million units); their Apple Watch has fitness tracking capabilities along with greater connectivity, but their premium price tag has restricted sales. To counter, Fitbit recently released its ’fitness watch’ Blaze - the company refuses to refer to it as a smartwatch - and the market is in danger of becoming even more dominated by its leader as Blaze takes advantage of its near-unanimous positive reception.

And, in what represents a foray back into the consumer market, Nokia has entered the race to be at the forefront of wearable health care technology, with its acquisition of French connected consumer electronics company, Whitings. In a deal worth $191 million, Nokia will welcome the eight-year-old company into their Nokia Technologies division. The deal is expected to be completed in Q3 of 2016, when the companies will begin to ‘build the future of digital health together,’ according to Withings CEO Cedric Hutchings.

In case you missed it, Nokia hasn’t been making mobile phones since it sold its mobile unit to Microsoft in 2014, and has since been a maker of ‘telecom-network equipment.’ With the future of technology seen to be in wearables, though, Nokia’s re-entry into the consumer market is promisingly focused. The company has been developing a digital health strategy named WellCare for over two years now, a package expected to be similar to Apple’s HealthKit - which is already being used in US hospitals to monitor patients in and out of direct care. Nokia president Ramzi Haidamus explained to Engadget that the acquisition is intended to accelerate WellCare’s development, giving the giants a direct way into the market. Haidamus admitted that the acquisition is about more than just Withings’ technology: ‘We're paying for the company, but in reality it's Withings that's going to be running the entire digital health business at Nokia.’

It is unclear at this point whether Whitings will keep its brand, or whether the more ubiquitous name of Nokia will take over to drive the wearables to market. Withings’ independent offerings have already been well-received, though, and their Activité watches are arguably some of the best-looking wearables available. Starting at $149.95, the watches are significantly cheaper than their Apple or Fitbit counterparts and the foundations are set for Nokia to create some multifunctional yet very attractive products. Withings has 200 employees based in France, the UK, the US and Hong Kong, but Nokia insists there will be no layoffs or any other major changes to the way the company is run. Wearable tech is in danger of becoming a critically saturated industry, but having acquired an already established company with plenty more to offer on top of their watches, Nokia will be hoping to shout that little bit louder than the rest. 

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