Oura Under the Spotlight as Samsung Enters the Ring

Smart rings have long fascinated me. I’ve tried several payment rings over the years — starting with the Kerv, also known as K-Ring, in 2017 — and loved the functionality, and I think the discrete design has plenty of potential. However, I’ve not spent much time with the recent wave of health-focused rings. Samsung’s announcement that it plans to launch the Galaxy Ring in 2024 has reignited interest in this emerging product category, and in that light, I thought it would be good to re-acquaint myself with the Oura Ring in CCS Insight’s wearable devices library.

Oura, established in Oulu, Finland in 2013, has been the trailblazer in the smart ring space. Its first ring was released in 2015 and the Gen3 model I’ve recently been wearing was launched in 2021. In March 2022, it revealed it had sold more than 1 million rings.

The company has been on an interesting journey. Initially it struggled for traction because it was an expensive product with mostly sleep-focused features. However, the pandemic was a game-changer as it renewed consumers’ interest in personal health and well-being. We observed a boom in sales in the wearables industry at that time, with smartwatches and fitness trackers flying off the shelves.

The Oura Ring Gen3 added significant new features with temperature and blood oxygen tracking, helping to justify the investment of not only purchasing the ring but also paying the ongoing subscription charge. This has helped transform the product from a niche sleep tracker to a more comprehensive health-monitoring device. It’s especially attractive to users who’d rather not wear a smartwatch 24/7, when tracking sleep.

Behind the scenes, Oura has amassed an impressive portfolio of intellectual property for hardware and software related to smart ring design. It recently revealed that it has 100 granted patents, 270 pending patent applications and more than 130 registered trademarks. Oura will hope this insulates it from the looming competition that’s expected to emerge over the coming year, and it hasn’t been afraid to be litigious.

My decision to start using the Oura Ring again serendipitously coincided with the launch of a new feature called Resilience, which builds on a capability Oura added in 2023 called Daytime Stress. Resilience assesses your ability to cope with “physiological stress” by tracking this throughout the day and combining it with your daytime and night-time recovery over a 24-hour period. It’s an interesting metric that distils various measurements to give you a great snapshot of your overall well-being.

The number of things the ring tracks could be overwhelming, but what has impressed me most is how Oura shares data through its excellent app. The almost-daily updates are very engaging and the team at Oura is clearly heavily focused on providing an interactive experience, which will be vital to convince customers to commit to the $5.99 (or £5.99) monthly subscription. This attention to detail works extremely well for introducing new features, such as Resilience, giving users regular alerts about the capability, how to interpret it and how to improve their score.

Oura should also be applauded for its unwavering focus on women’s health. In part, this has been achieved by teaming with services like Natural Cycles, which helps women better understand and take control of their fertility and avoid the common side effects of hormonal birth control. Several app developers and wearables manufacturers including Apple and Samsung have also made progress on analysis of cycle tracking and menopausal symptoms, but there’s still a huge amount to be done. Helping women better understand their bodies is a strong differentiator in the smart wearables space, and an area where some of the largest players have struggled to get it right.

I’ve been extremely impressed by the Oura app and how it gets me to engage with it. Hardware development isn’t easy, but the real value of wearables lies in what you do with the data generated, and that’s where Oura seems to be succeeding. The company also appears to be very agile, regularly adding new features with focus areas including metabolic health, behavioural health and fitness and lifestyle metrics. Put together, this should help Oura defend itself from the threat of new rivals competing on its turf.

And its defence will soon be put to the test, as Samsung is officially entering the fray with a smart ring. After months of speculation, I was still unsure whether the company would take the plunge, so it was good to see its intentions break cover at the launch of its Galaxy 24 smartphone series. I think it’s a little surprising that Oura has had the segment largely to itself for so long. I can only assume that a combination of factors has made Samsung — or, by the same token, Apple — reticent to join the smart ring party.

This is likely to have boiled down to concerns that a new wearable would take sales away from smartwatch product lines, or about the sheer complexity of having to size rings to individual users, which would result in numerous models and a significant risk of a high return rate if the ring doesn’t fit correctly. Oura has tried to overcome this in the US by partnering with bricks-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy, allowing users to size themselves at more than 850 locations nationwide, making the purchase easier — an approach I expect rivals to follow.

Samsung may have been attracted by the accuracy of finger-worn tech. A ring can read directly from arteries in the finger, whereas wrist wearables sit on top of the wrist, away from the arteries on the bottom of the wrist. Based on my discussions with Samsung’s head of digital health, Dr Hon Pak, in 2023, it’s clear that the company understands the role that more-accurate and advanced wearables can play in addressing or preventing long-term health and chronic conditions. I fully expect Samsung’s initial focus to be mainly on sleep tracking, with other capabilities being built around it.

CCS Insight’s connected devices team will be keeping a close eye on developments in this area at MWC in Barcelona next week — if you’d like to come and talk to us, book a meeting here. I’m personally extremely passionate about technology as a force for good, and believe there’s a societal imperative for it to play a stronger role in keeping people fit and well. Wearables are a central thrust in this effort, and although I think Oura has been doing a sterling job in pushing the boundaries of the smart ring, I’m also fascinated to see newcomers expand this category over the coming years.