We often find that both the creators and experts on the HWTrek platform are actively searching out for new markets for their devices, but feel limited due to a lack of understanding of overseas markets. The Middle East and North Africa Market (MENA), often comes up in discussions but is viewed as pretty hard to penetrate. For wearables, this region is something of a hotspot. According to insights from the research and consulting firm, IDC, the wearables market in this region totaled 1.96 million units in 2016, representing a 38.4% increase from 2015. This positive trend is expected to continue into 2017 as the market is tipped to increase by 22.6% to reach total sales of over 2.4 million units. While wearables consumption is slowing everywhere, MENA suprisingly bucks this trend.
The MENA region obviously represents a lot of opportunity for creators of innovative wearable devices. Which is why we reached out to Saudi Arabia-based Karim Gabrony, who is the founder of wearables blog, WearbleO. Karim is a wearable and IoT enthusiast and a senior product manager at both Samsung. He was kind enough to take the time out of his busy schedule to introduce the MENA wearables market to the members of the HWTrek community.
Hi Karim, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Please tell us about yourself and how you got involved in the wearables industry?
I have always been a big fan of gadgets since childhood and also obsessed with the latest technology trends. I was then very lucky to land a job as a product manager at Vodafone then Samsung where I got to be hands-on with the latest, upcoming tech trends. I saw great potential for wearable tech as in a none saturated niche market. I still believe that there is a lot of great opportunity for innovation.
What was your inspiration for starting WearableO?
I realized that most of the sites only focused on wearable tech news, with very few articles built around helping the average consumer understand the new trends. I thought that people who aren’t into tech need a simplified way to take them through buying their first smart watch or VR device. That’s when the idea of WearableO came to mind. providing the average consumer with step by step guides and advice for choosing wearable tech gadgets.
Our platform contains a lot of Asian experts working in the wearables industry. What can you tell them about the consumer preferences for wearables in the MENA market? What advice can you give them for reaching this market?
Well……….MENA consumers are a bit hard to satisfy. Products must be of reasonable value and consumers really care about the cost-benefit ratio of the device they are buying. For example, take the example of a VR headset made by a well-known mobile manufacturer, which has been a big success. If you want to attract the consumers in this region, you need to make sure your product is not of less quality or more expensive than what is already on the market. So… consumers care about value for money over everything else.
MENA consumers are a bit hard to satisfy…they care about value for money over anything else
What are some of the most exciting wearable startups or devices from the MENA region?
My personal favorite device is more an IoT product, named Smarke from Lebanon. The device allows users easy, keyless access to their properties. What makes this one different is that it was generated and developed from scratch in the MENA region and the accompanying app needs only Bluetooth with no internet connection at all.
What developments do you predict for the wearables Industry over the next ten years?
I believe that Virtual Reality will be more involved in our daily tasks and it will become an essential part of our daily routine. VR will be considered less with games and more with our daily lives.I personally know a gentleman in Egypt who turned his 20 SQM shop into a virtual furniture showroom using 2 VR headsets and designated area to showcase his wares. A brilliant and very useful idea!
What are the major problems that you see in the wearables industry right now?
Absolutely it is usability… I think we need to move on from wearable devices only being seen as a gimmick, to actually improving consumer’s lives. Companies need to better understand what consumers actually need and what real problems a wearable device is actually supposed to be solving. Wearables need more purpose in general. When we reach this stage, companies will really start making money.
What barriers do you see as there being for overseas companies succeeding in the MENA market?
Most of the large markets in the MENA region are very open to trade. However, there are some have minor obstacles that need to be overcome. For instance, in the Saudi market, companies are required to have a percentage of Saudi nationals in the workforce. Other markets like Egypt have high tariffs for importing goods. But really, I think solutions are not that hard to work out.
Success in this region is more related to understanding the customers than anything else.
Thanks very much for your time and insights