Wearable technology is among the hot technology trends today. Google has been experimenting with Google Glass, Apple is rumored to be in the process of manufacturing the iWatch, and Samsung released the first wearable (albeit clunky) smartwatch, Galaxy Gear. But wearable technology isn’t entirely new. According to IMS Research, 14 million wearable devices were shipped worldwide in 2011. IMS also expects the market to be worth $6 billion by 2016. Another market research report, Wearable Technology Market – Global Scenario, Trends, Industry Analysis, Size, Share And Forecast, 2012-2018, estimates the wearable technology market to grow 41% annually from an estimated $0.75 billion in 2012 to $5.8 billion in 2018.
While Google Glass may be one of the more hyped wearable tech products, several other smaller technology companies have been making high-tech wearable gear. Wearable products are most in demand within the fitness and wellness, healthcare, and medical segments, with manufacturers creating clothing and devices that can measure activity and other statistics such as vital signs and glucose levels. And of course, one of the more common uses of wearable technology is in the form of a Bluetooth headset.
San Francisco–based Jawbone is one player that has made its mark within wearable technology. It was founded as Aliph in 1999 by Stanford undergraduates Hosain Rahman and Alexander Asseily. Jawbone has been focused on developing wearable technology and audio devices that are easy to use while delivering high-end technical innovation and design.
The company is best known for its award-winning premium ICON Bluetooth headset that uses Jawbone’s NoiseAssassin technology. NoiseAssassin is the most efficient noise-cancelling technology in the world, and as such it is used in military deployments by tank commanders and helicopter pilots. Unlike traditional headsets, Jawbone headsets sense the speaker’s voice by resting on the jawbone and feeling speech vibrations. These headsets also manage noise on account of wind interference and block winds of up to 10 mph. The basic headset, ICON, is priced at $79.99, while other premium versions such as the Jawbone ERA, which includes features like automatic volume control and motion sensors, are priced at $129.99 each.
Within audio devices, Jawbone also manufactures JAMBOX, an intelligent wireless speaker and speakerphone that sells for $179.99. JAMBOX works with both a headphone jack or audio line and a Bluetooth signal to play audio content from computers, tablets, and Macs. It features a 360-degree microphone that offers echo-cancellation technology and enables use as a wireless speakerphone.
Within lifestyle solutions, Jawbone offers a wearable wristband, UP. The wristband tracks the user’s movements, diet and sleep data and connects with iOS- and Android-based UP app that helps in tracking and analysis. It helps users track weight, map jogs and bike rides, and even reminds them to move in case they have been idle for longer than usual. The ergonomic and waterproof design and the software for UP received strong reviews on launch in 2011. But soon after, users started to complain about several issues, including poor battery life and rattling buttons. Jawbone had to refund money for sales of these units, but it soon fixed some of these glitches and released the second generation UP which currently retails for $129.99.
Earlier this year, Jawbone recently acquired BodyMedia, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of wearable health tracking devices. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but analysts estimate the price to be more than $100 million. BodyMedia’s acquisition makes Jawbone the largest company in the wearable health device space, with more than 300 patents. It also makes Jawbone a prime target for acquisition by other tech giants like Google and Apple, both of which are experimenting with wearable devices.
Jawbone does not disclose any financial details. Reports reveal that the company has received more than $310 million in venture and debt funding to date. Investors include Khosla Ventures, SV Angel, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Deutsche Telekom. The latest round of funding was held earlier in September when Jawbone raised $93 million in debt financing from Silver Lake Partners, Fortress Investment Group, Wells Fargo Bank, and J.P. Morgan. Recent valuation is not known, but the company was valued at $1.5 billion in 2011 when it raised $70 million. Some reports suggest that Jawbone may be looking to list soon, but the company has not made any comments on the matter.