Monsoon means innovation for umbrella-makers in Kerala, but by any standards, this year’s innovation — a Bluetooth-enabled umbrella that can connect the owner to her mobile phone — is a winner.
Introduced by Alappuzha-based Popy Umbrella Mart, the umbrella with a speaker has a knob that connects it to the mobile phone through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This way, one can keep the phone in the bag or in the pocket, and still receive calls. And even listen to music.
Once connected, your phone will receive a message from the umbrella. From the moment you accept it, you can attend to phone calls and talk through the knob fitted on the bottom of the handle.
“This is very useful for people who constantly use the phone,” says R Arumughan, a local umbrella seller. “And in the rains, you don’t have to take your phone out and fear it getting wet.”
A replaceable battery that could run for about a year or two, depending on how often you need to carry an umbrella, is assembled along with the chip. It’s able to maintain connection with a smart phone within a range of about 30 feet, and when that connection snaps, users will get an alert on their phones reminding them they may have left it behind. Designed with nano- yet-powerful speakers and 2GB memory card, it enables users to play songs with voice adjuster.
Popy’s marketing manager Antony Isaac says this model that costs Rs 1,950 per piece has got a good run. Popy, which has close to 200 models, commands more than 40 per cent of the 70-lakh piece Kerala umbrella market.
“The model is sought after among the new generation as they are more tech-savvy,” Mr Isaac said.
For the less tech-savvy there are other models such as an umbrella with fan, walking stick, and music. It ranges from the traditional black, curved handle umbrella to five-fold umbrellas with whistles, compass and even water-guns. Reverse umbrella helps keep the umbrella dry even when you fold it.
“We come up with innovative ideas depending on the market requirement and then consult experts in places like Taiwan on metallurgy and design,” Mr Isaac says. The ultra-light umbrella, weighing just 28 grams using thinner filament yarn, carbon ribs and aluminum handle is one such creation.
“Every year the umbrella business gains momentum when schools reopen after summer vacation,” he said.
John’s Umbrella Mart, the second largest player, has about 150 varieties with prices ranging from Rs 150 to rs 5,000. The companies share a parentage, that of St George Umbrella Mart, which revolutionised the scene in the 80s with innovative products such as nylon fabric instead of cotton.
And then you have Teflon and UPF-coated umbrellas that come with a torch, thermometer, compass and whistle. Never a dull moment in the Kerala umbrella market, it seems....