Perhaps more than any other area of wearable tech, smart rings have struggled to carve out a consistent purpose. Motiv ring aside, we've seen more than a few startups launch in this field, only to be drowned out by bigger markets, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers.
However, one Indian startup isn't aiming to simply compete alongside the bigger players. It wants to replace them. Through its S-Ring, Xenxo is promising to bring a host of features straight to the user's finger, with an emphasis on discreet SOS alerts to help users in danger.
Read this: Why building smart rings is so difficult
The company has already soared through its initial crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter, raising north of $350,000, and backers can get in on the ground floor for $199 – that's a drop of around $80 from the retail price it'll jump up to after shipping to backers later this year.
"In 2012, there was the infamous case in Delhi of a gang rape, and at that time myself and my co-founder were both pursuing a bachelor degree. This obviously sparked a big reaction in India and across the world, and we began to think of solutions within technology to try and help avoid this in the future," says Xenxo co-founder Vigneshwar Kg.
"Alongside our studies, we had it as a side project and began searching around and testing a few different ideas. We eventually decided that creating a smart ring would be the most discreet way to help the problem."
Those ideas included a smart shoe that offered SOS functionality to help the user, but the team eventually opted for a ring because it believed it could also harbour more than just a back-up for those in danger. As a result, the S-Ring manages to pack in support for NFC payments, the ability to make calls through the built-in speaker and microphone, integration with Google Assistant and Siri, a silent alarm, data storage, gesture control for music and even step counting.
Keeping you safe
But while it's this arsenal of features and more that will help it take on and potentially replace more traditional, wrist-based wearables, the Xenxo co-founder told us that the safety is still the one of main focuses of the ring.
"We do have a lot of features, but the core function is still trying to help someone in danger," Vigneshwar said. "When the person presses a button, it's able to alert friends and family and send the location of the user. After 10 minutes, there's also the option to send this alert to the police."
Typically, we see devices focus on solving one problem, but the S-Ring is unique in its ability to cover a lot of different areas. And though this could potentially make it difficult for the ring to establish a target audience in the long-term, Vigneshwar actually hinted that the S-Ring's versatility is its biggest strength over rivals.
"Other smart rings are usually only focused on one feature – maybe contactless payments, maybe safety – but it's generally not enough to replace watches or trackers. And even if other wearables are coming up with these solutions, too, they're also often not implemented that well. Take the Apple Watch's call feature, for example. It's great that you can call from the wrist, but there's no privacy because of the open speaker," he continued.
It's not just a lack of functionality that has, as Vigneshwar alluded, been the downfall of many smart ring startups, either. Building rings packed with smarts is also just a deeply complex process, something that Xenxo itself has also struggled with.
Not only was bringing the size down during prototyping a challenge, but the company had to create a custom battery in order to slim down the device to a reasonable level. And with issues like this solved after much trial and error, the company is now reaping the rewards through its campaign.
As we've mentioned, Xenxo isn't the first smart ring startup to try and establish itself. And while it's sensible to be sceptical of any device in the area promising this many features, there are encouraging signs from the Indian company.
Despite shipping not being set to commence until later this year, the startup tells us that manufacturing in China is all set to begin in July. And since its shipping dates to backers are set to be spread out in waves over November, December and January, Vigneshwar also noted that the increased demand shouldn't be a problem during production. Its companion app, after suggestions from the near-2000 backers have been taken on board, will also be updated for both iOS and Android devices.
As ever, we offer caution around any crowdfunding campaign, but Xenxo's S-Ring does appear to tick many boxes that rivals in the area have previously left blank. And if you're looking for an alternative to a smartwatch or fitness band and don't want to compromise on features, this is one wearable that may be worth a further look.
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