Issue No. 188: Smart Ring Wars

Illustration: Courtney Powell

Forget the wrist wars; smart ring makers are fighting for your finger.

Gadgets Galore

Topping $115B in 2021, the wearable tech market is expected to reach $380B by 2028.

As innovation accelerates, devices are shrinking, sensors are getting more sophisticated, and costs are coming down. Meanwhile, activity trackers are converging with medical devices, giving rise to prescription wearables.

Climbing steadily for years, the pandemic boosted wearable adoption.

According to a Deloitte survey, 14% of US smartwatch owners purchased their device after the onset of COVID-19. Step counting aside, 11% of consumers use their smartwatch to detect COVID-19 symptoms.

Although wearable shipments declined in the first quarter of this year, the “Other” category—including smart rings—had been on a hot streak, growing 94.1% in Q4 2021.

As consumer demand cools, market intelligence platform IDC said device makers must differentiate, opening the door for new hardware and software offerings.

Lord of the Rings

Founded in 2013, Oura’s sleep-tracking smart ring put the finger-worn form factor on the map.

Ramping up, this spring, the company surpassed 1M units sold and raised new capital, notching a $2.55B valuation.

But, the brand hit a few stumbling blocks along the way.

Oura introduced its Gen 3 ring last year. Frustrating users, the company also instated a monthly subscription, effectively paywalling the app. Meanwhile, supply chain issues caused delivery delays.

Months on, Gen 3 owners are still waiting for the device’s promised features to launch. In the interim, Oura was forced to extend free access as upgrades lagged.

Amid the fallout, Harpreet Singh Rai exited the CEO spot in December 2021. COO Michael Chapp filled the interim role until former SurveyMonkey president Tom Hale was hired this April.

Finger Fight

Sensing an opening, wearable makers are looking beyond the wrist.

Circular. After opening US pre-orders in February, this French smart ring brand hopes to deliver products this summer.

Like other devices, Circular measures heart rate variability (HRV), blood oxygenation (SPO2), breathing rate, body temperature, and more. Promising easy-to-understand data and a price tag that’s $50 less than Oura, the brand is targeting more casual health seekers.

A red flag, in May, Oura sued Circular for infringing on two of its patents, seeking to block all US sales while collecting restitution for lost revenue. In a comment to Wearable, an Oura spokesperson said:

“We embrace creativity and innovation in health technology, including from our competitors… However, what we cannot accept is direct copying, as this does nothing to help consumers or advance our industry.”

Movano. While Oura tries to protect its patents, healthtech company Movano is strengthening its IP portfolio.

Founded in 2018, Movano is set to launch its flagship product, a smart ring designed for women, later this year. In addition to the Movano Ring, the company develops noninvasive sensors, including proprietary tech for glucose and blood pressure monitoring.

Like the broader industry, Movano is merging wellness and medical wearables. As it pursues FDA approval, the company is assembling a consumer-focused team, including former Hydrow CMO Tyla Bucher and Google/Fitbit strategic partnership head Stacy Salvi.

Elsewhere. Speaking of Fitbit, the company filed a patent for an SPO2 and blood pressure-sensing ring in 2021. And metabolic health company Ultrahuman acquired Indian smart ring maker LazyCo this April.

Looking Ahead

As the ring wars heat up, wearables still have to prove their worth — from increasing activity to improving health outcomes, there’s little evidence to support their effectiveness.

But, as technology improves and prices fall, all signs point to more health sensors, not less. With that, the smart ring isn’t the end game – it’s a pit stop on the road to always-on health tracking.

🍎 Food as Medicine

Our food is killing us, and something needs to change.

On the Fitt Insider Podcast: Season Health CEO Josh Hix discusses his digital food pharmacy and meal kit service prescribing food as medicine.

We also cover: Josh’s exit from meal kit service Plated, Season’s $34M funding round, and working with insurance companies to prioritize patient health.

Listen to today’s episode here

💻 Content is King

As the future of fitness unfolds, content, not hardware, is taking center stage.

The latest: Connected equipment maker Tonal is opening an NYC production studio, expanding beyond the West Coast. Plus, five new coaches are joining the ranks, adding new workout modalities to the mix.

Last year, the company debuted live classes, upgrading a library of pre-recorded videos. With the new NYC studio, Tonal will offer 32 live sessions each week.

For context: A leader in the smart strength category, the company has raised more than $450M, earning a $1.6B valuation. But, its high-tech machine alone isn’t enough to keep users coming back — and paying a $49/month subscription.

More content. According to a Les Mills survey, “rockstar instructors” are the number-one factor for consumers when choosing a class. But, bringing the studio experience into the home requires both world-class talent and state-of-the-art production.

  • Apple makes Fitness+ content in a 23K-sq-ft Santa Monica, CA studio.
  • Peloton put $50M into its 35K-sq-ft NYC studio; it also has a 20K-sq-ft London studio.
  • Xponential Fitness launched its tech-driven XSTUDIO production house to support its digital platform.

In flux. As the workout-from-home gold rush subsides, strategies are shifting. Downplaying exercise equipment, Peloton CEO Barry McCarthy said: “The magic doesn’t happen in the sheet metal… The magic happens on the screen.”

Punchline: Equipment aside, as obé co-founders/co-CEOs Ashley Mills and Mark Mullett recently told us, consumers now demand fitness on their own terms, with an uncompromising combination of “quality content, A+ talent, and variety of movement.”

🍺 Bye Bye, Booze

One of the most health-conscious generations yet, Gen Z is avoiding alcohol.

  • Over 30% of consumers aged 18–25 say they never consume alcohol.
  • Gen Z spends 40% less on alcohol than millennials, making five fewer trips to buy it per year.

Buuut… they’re not totally out on mind-bending substances.

Puff, puff, pass. More than two-thirds of 18–24-year-olds prefer marijuana to alcohol. Coming of age as weed’s prohibition lifts, younger stoners are outspending other cohorts.

Going from widespread stigma to new-age self-care, weed has infiltrated wellness. Now, brands are slipping THC into functional beverages and gummy vitamins in the name of well-being.

Shroom boom. Over 10% of Gen Zers say they’ve used psilocybin in the past six months, compared to 3.4% for the general population.

The psychoactive in “magic mushrooms,” this substance isn’t legal. But, as psychedelics move into the mainstream, recreational use is sure to follow.

Looking ahead: The largest generation in America, Gen Z is making waves in health and wellness—from The Great Destigmatization to eco-forward preferences—forcing brands to take notice.

💼 Post a Job

Connecting top candidates with leading health and fitness companies, Fitt Jobs is the industry’s go-to source for hiring or getting hired.

Taking submissions. Now, in addition to curating openings at top companies, interested organizations can post job openings. Submit your job for free here.

Keep in mind, because we’re working hard to ensure high-quality listings, all posts are subject to approval. But, we’re stoked to be able to include more companies and help the industry attract world-class talent.

Be on the lookout. We’re continuing to add new features, like premium placements and jobs board sponsors. If you’re interested in learning more, send us a note.

📰 News & Notes

💰 Money Moves

  • Multinational food company Mondelēz International acquired energy bar maker Clif Bar for $2.9B.
  • Dutch healthtech company NOWATCH closed $8.7M in Series A funding for its stress-predicting wearable.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Startups Combating Stress
  • Saysh, a lifestyle apparel company created by Olympian Allyson Felix, closed $8M in Series A funding co-led by IRIS and Athleta.
    More from Fitt Insider: Upstart Brands Eye Footwear
  • Sustainable outdoor clothing company alder apparel landed $2M in a seed round co-led by Bridge Investments and Consumer Ventures.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Outdoor Economy
  • FitFighter, makers of a functional free weight system, added $2.5M in new funding.
  • Playmaker, a shoe-worn wearable measuring sports performance, secured $40M in new funding.
  • Lumi Interactive, creators of a mental health-focused mobile game called Kinder World, pulled in $6.75M in a funding round led by a16z.
  • SYSTM Foods, a food and beverage holding company, acquired RTD coffee brand Chameleon Organic Coffee from Nestlé.
  • Franchise running store Fleet Feet acquired New England-based running retailer Marathon Sports, including its soundRunner and Runner’s Alley brands.
  • Little Leaf Farms, a hydroponic lettuce grower, grabbed $300M in funding from The Rise Fund by TPG.
  • Ski coaching wearable company Carv raised $5.1M in a funding round led by Hiro Capital.
    More from Fitt Insider: Adventure Tech Scales Up

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony Vennare, Joe Vennare, Ryan Deer, and Melody Song. 

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